22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Debate resumed from 27th March (vide page 282), on motion by Mr. Forbes -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to -
May it Please Your Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved, by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to the Address: - “ but add -
This failure has been largely caused by the provision of inadequate finance for home building for -
The National Plan should have regard to -
It should also provide for -
.- I support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). Two things have become clear from this debate; first, that there is a shortage of houses for rental purposes and, secondly, that there is an unsatisfied demand for homes for purchase, particularly on a low deposit. Several honorable members have suggested that the shortage of houses for rental purposes is attributable entirely to rent control, to the inability of owners to obtain possession, and other factors. 1 entirely disagree and, in order to demonstrate my reasons for so doing, I should like to relate my own experiences before World War I., when, as a youth, I was in the employ of a real estate agent. I have some idea of the conditions which then operated in respect of rental homes. Building regulations were far from perfect. Those who intended to invest in rental houses purchased blocks of land and erected on them as many homes as they possibly could, as terraces, singlefronted brick houses, single-fronted weatherboard houses, or single-fronted brick two-story houses. These offered very little accommodation and few conveniences. In the light of present-day standards they would be considered far from satisfactory. These conditions brought about what we now call the slum areas of Melbourne. Many of those homes did not have a bath, a copper or a trough. Very often the only lighting available to tenants was by candle or kerosene lamp. From an investment stand-point, the homes were good, but from a living stand-point they were extremely bad.
After World War I a decided change took place in housing standards and in the attitude to home ownership. Investment for rental purposes declined considerably. Such homes as were built were usually semidetached brick structures, and the balance of investment was devoted to the construction of flats. There was a distinct trend towards building for home ownership. But whatever had been the difficulties in regard to investment for rental purposes, as a consequence of the depression the building of homes for rental purposes almost entirely ceased and the responsibility to provide accommodation for the people was thrown on the States themselves. At that stage, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia had vigorously tackled the problem and were building houses in large numbers, some for rental and some for sale.
It was about 1937 that the question of the States actively undertaking the construction of homes for rental purposes was considered.
I know that in 1937, the first Victorian Housing Commission Bill was introduced so as enable the State itself to use the resources and man-power available to enable rental homes to be constructed. Our task was not an easy one. The bill was brought in by a Country party government which was supported by the Labour party. Fo- nome reason or other, the Liberal party opposed the measure in the Legislative Assembly. However, the bill was passed by that chamber, and came before the Legislative Council, of which 1 was a member. The bill was passed, but the Liberal party in that House used its majority to deprive the Housing Commission of the right to raise money to carry out this function. So, for twelve months, until the act was amended in a later session, we had a housing commission but it had no power to raise money for the purpose of building homes.
New South Wales, at that time, introduced legislation of a different character. What little efforts were made to relieve the housing position at that period were frustrated as a consequence of World War II., because the building of homes for sale or rental almost entirely ceased. By the time the war was over it was estimated that there was a shortage in Australia of between 250,000 and 350,000 houses. I want to pay tribute, at this stage, to the Chifley Government, because it introduced the first housing agreement between the States and the Commonwealth to enable the problem of building homes for the people to be tackled in a scientific manner. In introducing this legislation the Chifley Government was embarking on an uncharted sea, with no precedent to guide it. But eventually, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Bill was passed and I know that we in Victoria then had the problem of trying to put that act into operation.
During the course of this debate, I have heard many sneers at the Labour party because of what was regarded as the poor headway made in respect of housing between 1945 and 1949. I have some idea of the problems which faced the States at that particular time. These problems, I emphasize, faced, not only Labour-governed States, but also Liberal-governed States during that period. I know that in Victoria, when the war ended and Labour was in power for two years, we had three problems to consider. The first was the finding of emergency housing for people who were being evicted because the owners were able to show that their necessity for housing was greater than that of the tenant. People were being evicted by the score every week, and accommodation had to be found quickly in order to relieve the distress. So in Victoria emergency housing had to be constructed, mostly from army huts.
Secondly we had the task of redirecting the industrial section of the State from wartime activity to peace-time activity. That meant re-establishing and putting into operation all the industries that were connected with building. As a member of that Government, I know of the many conferences that we called between the employers in the brick trade, the cement trade and the tile trade, and with the unions concerned in order to find labour power and see that conditions of employment were made reasonable. I recall the problems of obtaining the raw materials needed by those industries. There was a general shortage of coal which prevented us from producing enough bricks, tiles, and cement. Because the equipment in many factories was out of date, there was a constant struggle to obtain the new equipment and plant that was needed. In addition to the problems of our own Australian people, the constant influx of immigrants between 1946 and 1949 greatly aggravated the position. I do not for one moment deny that immigrants, by entering these industries in which labour was short, helped greatly in increasing the supply of many of the materials that were scarce. Those problems confronted all the States at that time. Three States had Labour governments, and three had Liberal governments, and all were frustrated by these conditions. Now. more than eleven years later, we still have not solved the housing problem.
The Opposition has proposed the amendment, which is in essence a censure motion, because it considers that this Government has failed to honour its obligation to overcome the back-lag of housing and to ensure that the Australian people are adequately housed. The housing problem is intensely human, because, as we have been told on many occasions, it deeply affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are living under conditions that are considered most undesirable by Australians generally. 1 could give hundreds of illustrations of the hi J .’fill conditions under which so many people are living to-day. In Victoria, inquiries have been made recently about overcrowding in tenement houses and overcharging for the letting of rooms in such establishments. A graphic indication of the acuteness of the problem is the existence of no fewer than 715 apartment and lodging houses in the area administered by the Melbourne City Council, and the naming and subjecting to rigid control of five or six of these establishments. Evidence given indicated that, in many instances, four or five people were living in one small room for which a rent of between £3 and £5 a week was charged, and that some people were buying homes for the purpose of housing immigrants a family to a room at exorbitant rents for accommodation that entirely lacked the normal amenities for a family. One can readily appreciate why pressure is being brought to bear upon the authorities that are in a position to act in the matter to solve the housing problem promptly, and so remove these evils.
The housing problem is becoming a major issue for thought and discussion by the trade union movement, progress associations, and all other associations in which men and women gather together to discuss their social conditions with the object of improving them. Resentment at the continued existence of these deplorable conditions is growing ever greater throughout the community as the days pass. As if these things were not bad enough, the shortage of homes is being seriously aggravated by the demolition of dwellings in all the capital cities to make room for new and expanding factories, warehouses, and other business premises. On top of that, one finds that many apartment houses are being purchased by business interests in order to convert them into offices and for use as professional chambers. Recently in Melbourne twelve families were evicted from one apartment house. The law in Victoria provides that if an owner can show to the court that he desires the house either for demolition or for reconstruction, an eviction order must be granted. So, in order to convert an apartment house into professional chambers twelve families were evicted. That type of demolition and reconstruction for business purposes is adding considerably to the difficulties which are being experienced by those who are seeking home accommodation.
In my own constituency I am meeting the same trouble. Some two years ago, in order to try to overcome the housing problem and the shocking conditions under which some of my constituents were living, I helped to form a co-operative housing society. For two years we had to go from institution to’ institution, endeavouring to secure the necessary finance to enable the society to be established. After two years we got money - not as much as we wanted - but enough to enable us to make some sort of a start. As a consequence of that, at least 62 people in the Bendigo district now have a possibility of securing a home within the next four years. We have a waiting list of 50 to 60 people, and if finance were available another co-operative housing society could be formed without any difficulty. It is apparent that we are up against a very great and serious problem and that something has to be done in the matter by this Parliament, because the Commonwealth Parliament, through its financial powers, is the only authority in Australia that is able to make the necessary financial provision to enable this housing shortage to be overcome.
I agree with speakers on this side of the House that at the present moment the only problem in respect of housing is finance. There is no difficulty whatever in respect of either materials or man-power. That is proved not only by the statements which have been made by my colleagues during the course of this debate, but also by documents issued by Government departments. Take the question of employment. In September, 1951, the number of tradesmen and others engaged on new buildings was 126,483. Today that labour force is down to just on 120,000. In other words almost 6,500 fewer men are employed in the building industry to-day than in September, 1951. In my own electorate of Bendigo I know of five carpenters, skilled tradesmen, who, because they are unable to secure work in housing construction in the Bendigo district, are working in food processing factories. I do submit to this House that the skilled carpenter is of much more value to the State employed as a carpenter, building homes for” the people, than employed as a factory hand in a food processing factory, no matter how important and valuable that work may be.
With respect to materials, let me quote from the Monthly Bulletin of Production Statistics, which is issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. This shows that for the six months ended June, 19S6, as compared with the six months ended December, 1955, in every industry concerned in the manufacture of raw materials for housing construction, there was a considerable fall in production. That applies to clay bricks, cement building sheets, fibrous plaster sheets, all types of roofing tiles and sawn native timber. The only product used in the building industry that shows an increase is cement, and that is probably because there is unprecedented activity in the building of factories, service stations, warehouses, stores and other classes of buildings that rely principally upon cement as the raw material. But the production of the other important materials such as bricks to sawn timber has been declining steadily over the past eight or nine months and, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, stockpiling of all those materials is taking place on an unprecedented scale at the present moment.
What applies to basic raw materials for buildings applies also to building fittings. The same problem arises in respect of building fittings. The capacity to produce the materials that are required is there and the labour required to be harnessed to those materials is available.
In the five minutes that I have left to me, J want to submit to the House that the problem of the shortage of houses can be solved, provided the Government is prepared to tackle it in the way in which it should be tackled. I agree that Australia has many problems to-day. Housing, hospitals, education and roads are all important matters and present problems that need solution. But I submit to the Government, as the Government submitted to the States during the lean years of 1952 and 1953, that all problems cannot be solved at the one time. What is required at the present moment is leadership by the Commonwealth to inspire and lead the States, and to formulate a plan that would enable the housing problem, at least, to be solved within a stated period of time.
According to the Spooner report, we are 115,000 houses short at present and the annual rate of construction for the next four years, in order to meet the current and increasing demands, will be roughly 52,000 or 53,000 houses. If we are to solve the problem in four years, it will be necessary for us to construct 332,000 houses or an average of 88,000 houses a year. That can be done. The building statistics show that in 1951 84,879 houses were started. If it were possible in 1951 to commence the construction of 84,000 houses, then I submit that, in 1957, with the added manpower and the added materials available, it should not be beyond the capacity of either industry or the governments to see that for four years 88,000 houses are constructed, so that at the end of 1960 the housing problem will be solved. From then onwards the construction of houses could be stabilized at the estimated requirement for each year. With the increase in population, annual requirements will gradually become larger and larger. I suggest that the States should receive leadership from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has supreme power over finance, controls income taxation, and customs and excise, and has the final decision in Loan Council matters. If the Government acts on the lines I have suggested, the housing problem can be solved within four years.
I say this in conclusion: Let us, above all, concentrate on a plan to end the housing shortage. All of our citizens .have the right to decent and comfortable shelter. Unless we give it to them we have failed properly to represent the people who have elected us.
.- I wish to join in the congratulations to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) that have been widely expressed. These honorable members set a very high standard in the opening of this debate. It was inevitable that the high national outlook evident in the speeches of the two distinguished new members did not characterize all the other speeches that have been made in this debate. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) quickly brought the debate down to a more familiar routine.
I wish to speak to-day on some aspects of the Opposition’s attack on the Government with regard to housing and immigration. Honorable members opposite, by means of their amendment, have called for a national plan on housing at this time, when our housing deficiency is of the order of 115,000 homes-
– Many more than that!
– As against 250,000 in 1947 when the honorable member for East Sydney and his colleagues were in power.
– Whether or not the honorable member likes these figures - and it is a habit of his to deny any figures that do not agree with his point of view - they were based on similar sets of statistics, and they are, therefore, comparable, whether they are precisely accurate or not. If ever there was a time when a national plan on housing was needed it was obviously during the regime of the Labour Government. The honorable gentlemen who are now calling on this Government to implement a national plan had themselves a very much greater problem to face when they were in government. If ever there was a crisis in housing it was the crisis that they faced in the immediate post-war years. I do not blame them for that crisis. It was inevitable that after a war of the magnitude of the one in which we had been engaged there would be a crisis in home building. But what national plan did they produce in those days? If there is a crisis to-day, how much more serious was the crisis in 1947? The Labour Government at that time produced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. It is true that this was a good measure, and we have carried it on and improved on it.
Honorable members opposite now call for a reduction of our intake of immigrants. What did they do in 1947? They had a vastly different idea at that time. They inaugurated the great Commonwealth immigration programme because at that stage their views were much sounder on the contribution that immigrants make to the solution of these problems of shortages. They introduced the immigration programme which, according to our present analysis, has made an immense contribution to housing in Australia, and without which our housing shortage to-day would have been immeasurably greater.
– Don’t be stupid!
– The honorable member for East Sydney may think it very clever to make these passing remarks. He is the wise and upright judge of these housing matters. He conducted an inquiry into the matter in New South Wales, about which I shall have a little to say later. At this moment I am engaged in dealing with the contributions that immigrants have made to house-building in Australia. We have been told that 41,000 immigrants who are building tradesmen have been brought to this country, and that they include foremen, carpenters, bricklayers, painters, plasterers, tilers, and glaziers, but not electricians. In total, it has been calculated - and I am indebted to the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) for his analysis of these figures - that immigrants contribute to the availability of houses rather than add to the demand for housing. There are many reasons for that, the first being that in the early years after their arrival immigrants make very little demand for houses.
– It is easy for the honorable member to say that that is rubbish, but 1 am giving the facts. If he will only wait, he will see some light thrown on this subject.
– Do not be misled by the Oxford accent.
– I am sorry. I had forgotten that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) was educated at Oxford.
In the first place, if an immigrant comes from Europe, he comes as the result of nomination by a sponsor who has guaranteed him accommodation. If honorable members opposite could see the way in which friends and relatives of these Europeans share their accommodation with their nominees I am sure they would appreciate that this makes a very great contribution to solution of the housing problem. In many instances they set an example which Australians would do well to emulate. The second factor is that British immigrants are allowed to stay for up to two years in immigrant hostels, and during their first years in this country most of them are busily engaged in saving their money in order eventually to acquire a home. I make the point, therefore, that during their early years in Australia, immigrants do not make a great demand for housing, but they make a very great contribution to housing. To cut down on the intake of immigrants would merely aggravate the housing shortage because there would not be the same intake of building tradesmen to contribute to a solution of the problem, whilst, on the other hand, there would be a build-up of the demand for houses on the part of immigrants already in the country.
If evidence is needed to support that contention, I ask honorable members to look at the housing situation in Western Australia, in relation to the intake of immigrants in that State. In post-war years, the population of Western Australia has increased by more than 40 per cent., whilst the average increase for Australia has been something like 20 per cent.
– New South Wales has had the lowest percentage increase.
– As the Minister rightly reminds me, New South Wales has had a far lower percentage increase. In Western Australia, the percentage intake of immigrants has been far higher than it has been in any other State. In 1951, Western Australia took 7.21 per cent, of all immigrants. In 1952, the figure was 10 per cent., and in 1953 it was 13 per cent. In the five years from 1951 to 1956, that State took an average ot 9.52 per cent, of all immigrants. Yet the population of Western Australia is only between 6 per cent, and 7 per cent, of the total population of the nation.
If immigrants were responsible for an excessive demand for housing, one would expect that Western Australia would be in far greater housing difficulties than any other State of the Commonwealth. Yet the plain fact is that the housing shortage in Western Australia is less acute than that of any other State, whilst the progress made in housing the people, which is the important thing, has been the most pronounced. There may not necessarily be any connexion between these two things, but the plain facts are that New South Wales had the lowest percentage intake of immigrants, and although its total population increase was lower than that of any other State, the housing shortage there is the worst in Australia.
– That is what is called a non sequitur.
– That is true. I am just pointing out that those are the facts. Therefore, honorable members opposite have failed to establish that there is any direct connexion between immigration and housing. It is a non sequitur, as the honorable gentleman from Oxford has so rightly reminded me. The point is that the State governments have a responsibility in this matter. It is the policy of the Government in each State that has led to the housing situation that exists, immigration notwithstanding.
We have the interesting situation that since 1951 successive State governments in Western Australia have spent £8 12s. per head of population on housing, notwithstanding that there had been a 40 per cent, increase of population there, whilst the New South Wales Government has spent the comparatively miserable sum of £3 6s. per head of population on housing. Therefore, the position seems to be that it is quite impossible to say logically that a housing crisis has arisen at this time. It is true to say that there has been a post-war housing shortage. It is true to say also that, in total, great progress has been made in overcoming that shortage and that, according to their lights, the various State governments have made greater or lesser contribution to the job of overcoming it. Under those circumstances, it seems to be complete folly for honorable members opposite to suggest that the full responsibility for overcoming the shortage - overnight, as it were - now lies on the Commonwealth. The present position in Western Australia was not reached without great difficulty. We have had shortages in other directions, caused by our effort to overcome the housing shortage. I do not think it can be denied that for a time the building rate in Western Australia was too high. That points the moral that in all these things there can be excesses as well as deficiencies.
– There has been a housing shortage through the ages here.
– The honorable member for Scullin may know the conditions in his own State, but I can assure him that for a time in Western Australia there were vacant
Housing Commission homes - rental homes - for which no tenants could be found. There were some in my electorate, in the township of Albany. The concentration of funds on housing has affected, for instance, hospitals. The public hospital, or the government hospital, in Albany has been due for renovation almost within living memory, lt was the subject of a promise made by the Labour party at several State elections. But the people of Albany have now been told that they must wait at least until 1958 for that very necessary work to be done. In other words, the Western Australian Government deliberately set itself a target for housing at the expense of other very urgent public works.
On Christmas Eve last year the State Government sacked 40 men from the State brickyards, quite unnecessarily. The secretary of the brickyard workers’ union, Mr. F. W. French, was, rightly, incensed by that action. Honorable members may have heard of him. He wrote a letter to the press saying that he had “ had “ socialism - this new democratic socialism which is the light that the Labour party is now following. A few days ago Mr. French, after having been expelled from the Australian Labour party again, wrote a letter to that press saying that there was a Statewide shortage of bricks. He wrote -
Enquiries reveal that an acute shortage of bricks now exists and that several brickyards have waiting lists as far ahead as three months. One company has stated that it can supply only the regular builders and cannot take an outside order. . . .
This should prove a shortage does exist and that is what the Minister was told would happen in 1957. It would appear that someone has blundered and that an explanation should be given the public, especially those people who are househungry. It is to be hoped that this matter will be thoroughly investigated. If this is done, there is no doubt that it will mean the re-opening of both sections of the State brickworks and the re-employment of the 40 men unnecessarily sacked on Christmas Eve, 1956.
That sacking was by a Labour government.
To show what democratic freedom of speech exists in the Labour party to-day I need only mention that there was a gentleman named Symons who was the secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in Western Australia. He was concerned at the fate of members of his union employed in timber mills.
– Yes, there is a problem in relation to timber in Western Australia. 1 am coming to that matter. Mr. Symons criticized the policy of the State sawmills in putting men off. The State sawmills led the way in dismissing timber mill employees in Western Australia at a time when the private saw-mills were still engaging labour. Mr. Symons criticized the proposal of the State Government that it would not reduce employment in the State saw-mills provided members of the Timber Workers’ Union employed there would agree to stand down for one day a fortnight without pay. 1 can imagine how that would appeal to the average leader of a trade union to-day who is supposed to represent the views of the workers. Nevertheless, Mr. Symons was put on the carpet before Mr. Chamberlain and the Labour party executive. He had to do a lot of explaining to get out of his trouble. I do not believe he was expelled from the Australian Labour party as Mr. French was, but that was only because he had not been so condemnatory of the socialist policy of Labour.
I said that there was a problem regarding timber in Western Australia. I want to make a comment in passing about that, because it is quite a serious situation. The Western Austraiian timber industry has over the years built itself up to a situation where it can more than supply the requirements of timber in Western Australia. Recently, there has been created a position of some difficulty with regard to the accumulation of surplus stocks and the difficulties in selling timber in other States, particularly South Australia. One of the difficulties arises from high freight rates. It costs more to freight timber by ship from Fremantle to Adelaide than it costs to send Oregon from the coast of North America to Adelaide. That is one of the difficulties that the Western Australian timber industry has to face in competing with timber from other sources.
I want to correct a wrong impression that may have been given to this House by my colleague, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). I think he would be the first to agree that a statement he is reported in “Hansard” to have made is incorrect. White ants do not attack jarrah timber.
– The honorable member knows that the “ Hansard “ proof was not corrected.
– I am only saying that the honorable member was reported in Hansard “ as having made that statement. 1 am happy to hear from him now that it is not correct. The other main Western Australian timber, karri, is as suitable for building purposes as oregon and other building timbers, and tests that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization applies to karri in regard to strength and ability to withstand stress and strain show that it is just as suitable as, and in most cases better than, oregon or any other timber. The third point is that karri is extensively used in South Australia for roofing purposes by the South Australian Housing Commission and fourthly the price list compares favorably with the price at which overseas timber can be purchased. I leave the matter at that, but I do suggest that there is a very strong case for a new tariff board inquiry into the protection necessary for the Western Australian timber industry. Some two or three years ago, when the last inquiry was held, we were told that, for the good of housing generally, it was necessary to import as much overseas timber as we could get, and that it was not desirable to protect the local timber industry by a tariff. Unfortunately, however, that situation does not hold good to-day. A more ready supply of overseas timber is coming to hand and the situation has changed markedly. Another inquiry should be held into this matter of protection for our timber industry.
The third requisition that honorable members opposite have made, in their national plan for housing, is finance. They require priority for housing over less essential investment. Does that imply that they wish to have capital issues control? It is a very interesting point, because they know very well that the Commonwealth at present has no constitutional power to institute capital issues control. They have also made a requisition for low rates of interest. The State governments can control interest rates, but so far as I am aware the Commonwealth has no general power over them.
Does Labour expect the Commonwealth to subsidize low interest rates for homebuilding at the general taxpayer’s expense? That is another interesting proposition under it: a man who had already paid off his home, or was in the process of doing so by instalments, would at the same time be subsidizing another man’s home. That does not seem to me to be a reasonable proposition.
If it is simply a matter, as Labour would seem to suggest, of the Commonwealth. Bank issuing a directive that credit shall be released for home-building, it seems rather odd that State banks, such as the Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia, the Rural Bank of New South Wales and other State banks cannot release that credit. They are not subject to central bank directives. They do not have to contribute to the special accounts. If it is sa easy to issue bank credit for houses - without one hundred and one other complications - why do not these banks make money available for housing?
I believe that this housing issue has been cooked up by the Opposition. There has suddenly been talk of a crisis - though there has, in fact, been a continuing problem - because honorable members opposite have suddenly discovered that they want the immigration intake reduced. A feature of their Brisbane conference was the fact that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) had unearthed a new conspiracy. He had found that immigrants did not vote for him. The only reason he could give was that there must be something wrong with the screening of immigrants. If the right honorable gentleman’s conclusion was reached as a result of an analysis of the 1955 election results he should realize that European immigrants who voted must have been brought to this country before 1950, that is, when Labour was in office and responsible for screening. What he fails to realize is that most of them came here as displaced persons. They were victims of socialism of one sort or another - the national socialism of Hitler, or the so-called democratic socialism of Russia. When they recorded their vote at the 1955 election it was perhaps their first opportunity to cast one that was genuinely free. It is not surprising that they took advantage of that opportunity to vote against socialism of any sort.
If the Leader of the Opposition wants a change in the screening of immigrants he should consider what he is asking. The only political screening that takes place is in regard to active Communists, who are, of course, excluded. It is not hard to realize that, if that is done, the majority of immigrants are anti-communists. Does the Leader of the Opposition want Australia’s screening methods changed so that Communists can be brought here? It would be interesting to hear him put forward that proposition, but of course he would not dare to do so. He is reduced to the shabby trick of playing on the feelings of the Australian people - trading on human distress in relation to housing and jobs so as to create false fears in the people of this country.
– Order! The honorable members time has expired.
.- If it is true, as the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) declares, that immigrants have made a major contribution towards solving the housing shortage, it must be clear that a scarcity of finance, and not of material or labour, has produced our present crisis. It is therefore the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to give the States sufficient finance to overcome this position. I congratulate the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on their excellent speeches as mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. The honorable member for Barker spoilt a fine address on primary production in his own electorate by handing bouquets to the Government for the content of His Excellency’s Speech. He said, in effect, that he was filled with pride as he listened because it sounded like the programme of a government coming fresh into the fray instead of one that had been in office for a long period. He said that it disproved the old dictum that a government which had long been in office became moribund and barren of ideas. 1 assure the honorable member that it was the worst opening speech that 1 have heard since I have been in this Parliament. The Government is not only moribund and barren of ideas; it has also lost the confidence of the electors. It has betrayed their confidence. It has failed to deal with inflation and provide finance for houses, lt has failed to put value back into the £1 or to maintain full employment. It has failed to get rid of controls, as it was pledged to do. Indeed, in certain directions, it has increased them.
It has failed to reduce taxation or maintain standards of living. It stands condemned because it allows interest rates to rise, thereby diverting finance from government securities to hire-purchase business. His Excellency’s Speech occupied approximately five and a quarter pages. Two of these were devoted to international and defence problems. The remaining three were devoted to the balance of the Government’s programme as it affected such important matters as defence, trade, inflation, housing, the general economic state of the Commonwealth, immigration, social services and so on. It brushed aside the most important functions of government and failed completely to tell the Parliament what the Government intended to do about its administrative programme. That is why Parliament is to-day debating an Opposition motion of censure on the Government for its failure to provide finance for housing.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) dealt with the problems of government, and, throughout his speech, he referred to the need for continued expansion and development of the Commonwealth. The honorable member also related how our vast immigration policy had greatly contributed to the growth of inflation, and he stressed the need for the exercise of care in the measures to be taken in the expansion of the economy if we are to obtain a balanced result. I believe that it is as a result of the Government’s lopsided and unbalanced immigration programme that, in the words of the honorable member, there is “ a long line of rotten fruit of inflation “ standing to the discredit of this Government, and the Government should be censured for it.
I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition who seeks to censure the Government for its failure to provide the necessary finance for the States and for ancilliary home-building establishments which are amply equipped to deal with and control applications for finance for home-building. The Government must also be censured for its failure to co-operate with the States in the formulation of a national housing plan. Labour leaders have already said that if the Government considers thai the Commonwealth has not the constitutional authority to formulate a national housing plan, Labour will support the Government in a referendum to obtain this power. However, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) told the House yesterday that the Government has ample power to deal with this important matter. I believe that the housing crisis in Australia is far more acute than honorable members realize, and that the shortage of houses throughout Australia is thousands worse than statistics reveal.
I refuse to place very much reliance in statistics, because they have been proved wrong time and time again. In this debate, a mass of figures has been produced and some figures contradict others as to the shortage of houses in this Commonwealth. I understand that the figures produced in this debate have been taken from the Commonwealth “ Year-Book Last year, when speaking on the Commonwealth and State bousing agreement legislation I pointed out to the House that the Statistician, in collating figures for a census, regarded many different kinds of dwellings as houses. The “Year-Book” says -
For the purpose of a census a “dwelling” is defined as a room or collection of rooms occupied by a household group living together as a “ family unit “ whether comprising the whole or only part of a house or other building (including temporary structures). Included in this definition are private houses, flats, tenements, hotels, boarding nouses, hospitals, institutions, and any other structure used for the purpose of human habitation.
Then, the “ Year-Book “ dennes a flat and a tenement as follows: -
For Census purposes a “ flat “ is defined as part of a house or other building ordinarily intended for occupation by a separate family group, and is a self-contained dwelling unit with both cooking and bathing facilities. A “ tenement “ is part of a house or other building ordinarily intended for occupation by a separate family group but is not a self-contained unit, and consists in the main of a room or rooms with cooking facilities.
It will be seen that any number of people can be housed as a family group in a room or number of rooms in the same house and their family needs would not be recorded as part of the housing shortage. Nor would they, in many instances, be qualified for inclusion in the State housing ballot because housing authorities would have consideredthat such families were properly housed. If we accept as factual the “ Year-Book “ version or people housed in any sort of structure for the purpose of home habitation; such as fowl-houses and stables, as being properly housed, it is easy to accept the figures given to the Parliament to the effect that there is a house for every 2.66 people in Australia. It is those people who live by the dozen in small houses and in fowlhouses, sheds, stables, tents, concrete pipes, gun-pits and old shacks that I am concerned with.
The housing problem is more acute and destructive than is realized. I believe that the whole fabric of our civilized society is being quickly undermined as a result of the shortage of homes. The closing of country timber mills is causing the separation of families. Husbands are being forced, as they were in the dole days, to leave home and search for work. There is a growing band of uncontrollable young people who are a positive disgrace to a civilized community. There are the bodgies and the widgies. There are those who refuse to obey the law and order of the States. One hears of them playing what they call “ chicken “. I understand that these types of people steal cars and race along a road up to one another to see who gives way first and whoever gives way first is called the “ chicken “. What other destruction they do, I do not know, but they are a menace to society. Then there are sex perverts who prowl around corners and molest people and raid young women’s bedrooms at night. There are those who assault young and old alike. I suggest that the responsibility for much of that sort of thing must be placed on the shortage of good homes.
In industrial cities, shortages and overcrowding of homes are more pronounced than in the country, and the problem has become really bad. Not long ago, a lady called at my office pleading to be found a home. She said that she and her two children, a girl of fourteen and a boy much younger, were occupying a home with four other couples and their children. She and her children were sleeping on the floor in a room with two other couples and their small children. That woman asked me to imagine, if I could, the humiliation that she bad felt by having to put up with such conditions, especially with her adolescent daughter having to live under such conditions and bearing witness to what went on. I. suggest that conditions of that kind are undermining the lives of girls and boys who are compelled to live in overcrowded premises and in slum areas.
In this debate many Government supporters have admitted that there is a housing shortage. Last year, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), in speaking on the housing agreement legislation, referred to me and said -
He and other Opposition members seem to think that the electorates that they represent have a monopoly of bad housing but I should say that in the electorate of Fawkner housing is as bad as anywhere else in Australia. I know of a condemned house consisting of five rooms in which 29 persons are living, and of another in which thirteen people are living in two rooms.
It will be seen that the housing shortage is not confined to New South Wales, although I know that Government supporters wish that it were. The problem that confronts all governments is how to overcome the terrible shortage of homes, and 1 suggest that the application of the Opposition’s proposed amendment could provide the answer.
The honorable member for Wentworth drew attention to the effect that immigration had had on the inflationary spiral and our economic expansion. That effect, I suggest, must have been ever so much more severe in relation to the construction of homes, hospitals, schools, water supply, sewerage, electricity reticulation and the maintenance of roads and other public utilities. It has been suggested, time and time again in this House, and in this debate by the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) that housing, hospitals, transport, water supplies, sewerage, electricity, roads and all other public undertakings are the responsibility of the State governments. In ordinary circumstances, I would agree. But I suggest when any government dumps in the country within seven or eight years some 800,000 people without having provided the finance necessary to house them or look after them in any way, its action beggars description. I contend that that is where a big mistake was made.
It stands to reason, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, after six years of war, which were preceded by almost ten years of depression, any country would have been hard pressed to rehabilitate its own people. Australia has not only rehabilitated its own people but also taken in more than 1,000,000 immigrants, thereby adding further to our troubles. This Government has failed to consider how those newcomers would adjust themselves in their new land or how the economy could absorb them. Many Australians guaranteed accommodation for relatives whose entry into Australia they desired to sponsor, but in many instances the accommodation did not prove satisfactory. Many such families had disagreements, and the accommodation arrangements were abandoned, with the result that another family was forced to look for a home. Thousands of these immigrant families have returned to the United Kingdom and Europe because of the lack of housing in Australia.
I suggest that this Government could have overcome many of our present housing problems had it retained for some years control over prices and materials, and adopted a bold financial policy in relation to housing. It could have avoided much of the present distress had it been bold enough to enunciate a financial policy designed to provide finance for housing and essential State instrumentalities such as I have mentioned. Credit for home-building could have been made available in a number of ways. The allocation to housing of funds standing to the credit of trust accounts would have helped considerably. The Government could also have requested the private banks to allow it to use some of their funds standing in the special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank. I suggest that, within limits, national credit could have been used for housing. I know of no better investment that the Government could make than an efficient housing programme, but, of course, that is outside the hire-purchase racket. In almost every State, there is already available the machinery needed for the distribution of housing finance, in the form of StarrBowkett societies, co-operative building societies, and State instrumentalities.
There are literally thousands of ownerbuilders who could effectively build their own homes with Commonwealth assistance, but it appears that the banking institutions frown on such ventures. It is my view that the capital wealth of the nation could be increased by millions of pounds if ownerbuilders were encouraged to build their own homes. Scores of young people struggle to purchase a block of land, build a garage on it, and furnish this temporary dwelling with prime-cost items - commonly known as P.C. items - such as an electric stove and a bath, which they hope later to transfer to the home they intend to build. Unfortunately, many of these couples have been unable to make further progress towards the realization of their dreams because of high building costs, and they are now rearing families under deplorable conditions. Many couples have up to ?1,500 worth of assets. Yet the banking institutions refuse to lend them the money they need to either complete a home or start building one. Finance provided through co-operative building societies would assuredly be used properly and effectively.
As I see it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, finance for home-ownership is a most stable form of investment. My own experience bears this out. The value of a home occupied by an owner continues to appreciate for many years, and after ten years or so, is usually much greater than when it was built. My home cost ?600 to build in 1937, and later approximately ?900 was spent on improving it. The ValuerGeneral’s valuation is now ?2,750, and it will probably be ?3,000 later this year. The home is worth ?4,000 on the open market, although it cost a total of about ?1,500. The reason for the appreciation of the value of homes in this way is that the owner usually continues to improve his property, and its real value is concealed until he decides to dispose of it. Most homes built 30 years ago are now worth five or six times as much as they cost. These facts show that, if the Government adopted a scheme to provide finance for every one requiring it for the purchase of a home, there would be no doubt about the success of such a venture. The allocation of ?100,000,000 for housing would provide 40,000 homes at a unit cost of ?2,500 including the land. With repayments ranging from ?3 to ?4 a week, which is about the average rental now being paid for homes, the ?100,000,000 could easily be repaid within 25 years. In that period, the capital value of the homes would increase to approximately ?300,000,000.
I suggest that it is essential for State authorities to continue to construct homes for rental, because there are perhaps 3.000,000 Australian who can never hope to own their own homes. I refer to those who are unemployable, pensioners, and workers receiving a margin above the basic wage of ?1 a week or less. Such people are virtually not in the race when it comes to owning their own homes, especially if they are rearing families. I believe thai much could be done to help the man earning a low wage to purchase his own home, perhaps by the establishment of a national housing body which, among other things, could thoroughly examine the housing COS structure. Many housing costs require examination without delay. I suggest thai there is no need for the exorbitant prices that must now be paid for blocks of land for home-construction. To smash the racket in land subdivision, the State governments should, wherever possible, subdivide Crown land for building sites, resume big estates at fair compensation, and allow people who need land for homes to buy building blocks at moderate prices. 1 believe that the profit margin of some builders is out of all proportion to the COS of the homes they construct. I understand that tenders submitted by builders vary by as much as ?700 to ?800 for a given job. Recently, Mr. V. W. Turnbull, secretary of the Newcastle Co-operative Building Societies, in an article in the “ Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate “ headed “Call For Building Costs Talks”, directed attention to the contrast between costs in 1937 and at the present time. He wrote -
A simple example is submitted to establish a comparison between wages and building costs nf some years ago with the present time. In 193” ?600 to ?700 would cover the cost of a comfortable home; the basic wage at that particular period was approximately ?4 a week. The same house to-day would cost no less than ?3.000 or 44 to 5 times the cost in the year referred to. Wages by basic wage and award increases have not increased in the same proportion.
Mr. Turnbull stated also ; and I agree with him ; that a conference should be called to ascertain whether costs are excessive, and. if it was established that they were, to determine by how much they could be reduced. He said that the conference should consider also whether margins of profit were too high, and whether the maximum labour effort was being obtained.
Freight charges and royalties on timber have increased out of all proportion to what they were twenty years ago - in some instances by 620 per cent. 1 suggest that, with the greater mechanization of industry to-day compared with the prewar years, such increases are not justified. Some increase of rail freights may be justified, because the interest burden of more than £10,000,000 a year being paid by the New South Wales railways is crippling them, but this does not apply to the royalties charged for timber. I believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this Government should take stock of the position and do everything within its power to provide more finance - the finance necessary to enable State government instrumentalities, StarrBowkett societies, and co-operative building societies, to build homes.
– I join with other honorable members of this House in congratulating the mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. We have had a demonstration from those two honorable members of what we may expect from them in the future. Their contribution to this debate has been very well received and, 1 believe, has been very enlightening. I have listened for a week to this debate on the Address-in-Reply and the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). All 1 can say is that with all the moaning and whining we have heard from the majority of Opposition members here, one would expect that in the near future we would have mass emigration of all old Australians from this country, leaving it for the new Australians.
I believe there is a housing problem in this country. A young and growing country like Australia, with a big immigration programme and a substantial natural increase in population, must expect some problems like this, and it is up to us in this Parliament to face up to those problems. I believe this Government has faced up to them in a practical manner. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), in his concluding remarks said that what was wanted was somebody to give leadership. This is both a Commonwealth and a State responsibility. I would remind the honorable member for Bendigo that when this Government’s new housing agreement legislation was passed during the last session of Parliament it was opposed by some State governments. Nearly six months elapsed before the scheme could be put into operation. Some States are still opposed to it.
Mr. Curtin interjecting.
– Honorable members opposite will not co-operate. They will not try to see what is good in the scheme. As usual, they are unco-operative.
The honorable member for Wilis (Mr. Bryant) chided my friend, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), for a statement he made on co-operation and working together. The honorable member for Hume made the statement after giving his reasons why the Russians should be kicked out of the United Nations. The honorable member for Wills said that that was a dangerous statement to make; that the Labour party felt that all peoples should be brought into consultation on world affairs and that every effort should be made at conciliation and arbitration in all fields. I would remind the honorable member for Wills that this Government set up an economic advisory council last year and again this year, composed of representatives of the business and all other sections of the community. Mr. Monk, president of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, was invited to represent the great Labour unions of Australia on that council, but the Australian Labour party would not permit him to do so.
If the honorable member believes that all shades of opinion, including even that of the Communists, should be heard in the United Nations, why does he object to similarly wide representation on the various organizations that this Government sets up to advise it on economic and other problems. Opposition members, are not at all consistent. Most of their speeches simply reflect Labour’s policy which, as was amply demonstrated in Brisbane recently, is unification - the centralization of government in the Commonwealth Parliament and the abolition of the State governments. Their idea is to have one supreme central government, which, with the abolition of the State governments, would have sovereign rights. The politicians would be supreme. The High Court, which is the only buffer now between politicians and the people, would be eliminated and decisions made here by the politicians would be final. That is not democracy to my way of thinking.
The Leader of the Opposition, after congratulating the mover and seconder, claimed that this Government had never had a planned programme and that all the accomplishments mentioned by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) were due to the earlier work of the Labour party. The truth is that the foundations were laid by the Bruce-Page Government. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) yesterday gave some illustrations of this. He demonstrated to the House that it is due to the Bruce-Page Government that this country is in the solvent position it is in to-day.
If honorable members of this House look at the statute-book, they will find that most of the measures which have saved this country’s economy were brought down then and are still in operation. The stabilization plan in the dairying industry was brought in in 1923. The equalization scheme brought in then is still in operation. There was no plan for the wool industry. The wool-growers of this country cannot thank the Labour party for anything. I remind this House that a former Premier of Queensland, the late Mr. Hanlon, at a Labour conference in Queensland some years ago advocated a fixed price for wool in Queensland. We had to fight that and we fought it very effectively. We have a free marketing system for our wool to-day and the wool industry has saved this country time and time again.
I do not hear my friends in the Opposition chiding me as they did when in one of my first speeches in this House, I spoke of the necessity to do something for our farwestern areas, particularly in relation to our great primary industries. I was accused of working the parish pump and looking after the wool barons and beef barons. But honorable members opposite did not go on the hustings and talk about wool barons and beef barons. They were not game to do that. This country is very lucky to have an industry such as the wool industry to pull it out of its economic troubles. The general public should know that and should be given, if possible, an “opportunity to appreciate it. Pasture improvement was encouraged by the BrucePage Government away back in 1925. That Government also brought in a subsidy for superphosphate, which had the effect of trebling the supply of superphosphate and halving its price to the primary producer.
Those are just a few examples of what the Bruce-Page Government did for this country.
Now I intend to deal with some matters contained in His Excellency the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. I said before thai the housing problem was an important problem; but there are other equally important measures contained in this Speech which have not been discussed by members of this House at all. They, too, require some thought. The first one I want to mention relates to the free-trade area that has been suggested in Europe. His Excellency said -
The United Kingdom has entered upon negotiations for a free-trade area which will bring her, and perhaps other countries of Europe, into association with the common market of the six. Such far-reaching changes could have important implications for the Australian economy and these developments are being kept under close review.
I am disappointed. I thought that during this debate some one who had some information would tell us a little more about what is implied in that statement. The only information I have is what I have read in the newspapers. I shall refer to an interesting interview on this question with Sir David Eccles, Britain’s new President of the Board of Trade. He was asked certain questions on this proposal. One was -
Are you sure this scheme will not damage the Commonwealth?
His answer was -
Quite sure. Just think where the interest and affections of the Commonwealth lie. They want Britain to be strong. On both sides we are each other’s most important customers. In addition, we are the bankers of the Sterling Area. The Commonwealth are always hoping we shall have more money to lend for their development. Therefore they have much to gain by any plan which will help Britain to get rich in co-operation with Europe. They can see that the £1 sterling will be stronger, and the European market for their raw materials will be larger.
Another question put to Sir David Eccles was -
All right, but what about Commonwealth foodstuffs?
This is the important part -
We buy them from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Colonies, who in return give us preferences on our exports of manufactures to them. What would happen to this valuable exchange?
His answer was -
That is a good point and we have taken care of it. As things are, Commonwealth food enters the British market free of duty. This is important to countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Our new proposals would leave all this unchanged. For we have told our friends in Europe that we can only join in a Free Trade Area if foodstuffs, feeding-stuffs, drink and tobacco and horticultural products are excluded from it.
I pause there to say that 1 should like some clarification. I believe our own government should tell us exactly what that means. I do not understand how the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade will operate there. Sir David Eccles continued -
This is essential from the point of view of “our own farmers as well and of our policy of a strong home agriculture. We could not join on any other condition.
That is one of the most important matters mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech, lt affects the very foundation of the nation. If our export trade will be affected in any way, the whole foundation of the economy of this country will be affected. Everybody knows that our overseas funds are earned mainly by our primary industries. When I say “ primary industries “, I have in mind that there are other primary industries than rural industries. The great bulk of our overseas earnings comes from primary industries. I hope that the appropriate Minister will, in due course, make a clear and concise statement to this House on how the Free Trade Area in Europe will affect this country and the producers of the goods. After all, Britain is our greatest customer for most of our primary industries.
I was very pleased to hear the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) say yesterday that when a nation has a prosperous rural community, there is prosperity throughout the length and breadth of the land. Everybody is prosperous if the rural community is prosperous. No truer words were ever said in this House. A similar statement has been made on many occasions, but it does not sink into the minds of some of my friends opposite.
– It is fundamental to the policy of the Australian Country party.
– I was about to say that. This party has a policy which is not sectional; it covers every section of the community. The honorable member for Perth amply demonstrated that when he said that, when we have a prosperous rural community, we have a prosperous nation. Now that the Australian Country party has been mentioned, I shall go a little farther. What was the reason for bringing a Country party into existence? It was formed because the average country dweller, not only the producer, was not getting a fair deal originally. He was not getting a fair share of the goods and amenities of this country. The public should know that. This party came into being and will remain here despite the recent comments of some newspapers. I go farther and say that this country should thank God it has a Country party. I mention those matters because the press recently has been very critical of our party. That is not new, of course, but it deserves some answer. The city press has always adopted that attitude.
Many other matters were mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech. I should like to mention another one, briefly. I congratulate the Government on its trade publicity campaign. Such a campaign was long overdue and I believe that it will help, us very extensively. In the last session, a bill was introduced to provide for the establishment of the export payments insurance corporation scheme. I believe that scheme will help the export not only of primary . products but also of manufactured goods. I commend the Government for introducing that scheme and I hope that it will be greatly extended in the future.
I am not altogether happy about one matter mentioned in His Excellency’s Speech. I agree with my colleague, the honorable member for Moore (Mr; Leslie), that we continually hear suggestions that primary production should become more efficient. Why are we the only section of the community that is being told that continually? We are getting sick and tired of it! We agree that there is plenty of room for primary industries to become more efficient, but that comment applies to all industries. Let other sections of the community be told that they should become more efficient! I resent that portion of the Governor-General’s Speech which suggests that primary producers should become more efficient. Though I said that there is plenty of room to improve, others should also do their share. I remind the House that the majority of primary producers are not in the game for the love of it or the fun of it; they also look for profits. Once a person enters a rural industry, he cannot just pack up and leave it. He cannot cart his property away on his back as any one else can. He puts his life savings into it and must stick to the job.
I shall refer to one other matter. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) mentioned costs which are affecting country areas in particular. He mentioned freights. I shall go a little farther. It is not only freights affecting us; it is also the crippling legislation that has been introduced recently - I am referring now tff Queensland - for the revaluation of the unimproved value of land.
Recently, rural properties in Queensland were re-valued, and throughout the Darling Downs and Maranoa unimproved values were increased by about 400 per cent. That meant an increase of 5d. a bushel in the cost of production of wheat. We are asked to reduce costs. The Queensland Government is constantly talking about reducing costs, but here is one instance of the way in which our costs have been increased. We have no come-back at all. We can do nothing about it except remove the Queensland Government from power, and that is a very difficult task, when we consider the way in which that Government has gerrymandered the electorates.
As a result of the greatly increased costs and our increased valuations, there is no incentive for anybody on the land to build up his property assets. I am quite prepared to give my own experience as an example. My valuation increased from £1,000 to £22,000 in one jump.
– The honorable member is a rich man!
– Do not forget that I pioneered that country, and you cannot pioneer a country in five minutes. It is my home. I do not want to sell my property. I am not concerned about its sale value. But I am concerned about the people whom I will leave behind me when I go. Every day one can pick up the newspaper and see that probate has been granted of an estate in my district. Frequently one sees that the deceased’s realty is, perhaps, £40,000, and his personalty nil. That is how he has finished, after working all his life and improving the country. When I first went out to that district everybody, including the members of our own State government, said that we were mad and would go broke. We were never given any encouragement. We could not get roads, electricity or any other amenity.
My time has almost expired, and before 1 resume my seat I wish to direct the attention of the general public to what took place at the recent biennial conference of the Australian Labour party in Brisbane. The people should try to understand exactly what is meant by democratic socialism. I asked quite a lot of my friends in the Australian Labour party what it meant, but they did not know. 1 did not know very much about it, either, until I read Dr. Burton’s interpretation. This is a very serious question, and if we in Australia are to follow the tactics advocated by Dr. Burton, then the sooner we hand the country over to Russia the better.
.- The remarks of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) have reminded me that, although for many seasons past Queensland has exported wheat, this year it has had to import wheat to meet its domestic requirements. That being so, it would appear that there is a lack of energy on the part of the Queensland primary producers. 1 can understand the attitude of the Australian Country party and the Liberal party to the question of housing, because no member of either of the Government parties has been without a home, and so cannot possibly understand what it means not to have a home. I suggest that our economists might consider the fact that the provision of homes constitutes a great advantage, not only to the people themselves but also to the Government, because its revenue is increased thereby. Even the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) would agree, I think, that there is a demand throughout the world for greater production. The building of homes means employment for timber cutters and hauliers, and for workers in the saw-mills, the railways and the shipping companies. It increases the demand for trucks for delivery of materials, for cement, galvanized iron, tyres, bathroom fittings, glassware, bricks, paint, nails, fibrous plaster and many other items. It stimulates activity in other directions, such as the advertising and distribution of the various articles that I have mentioned, and in the production of machinery for the repair and upkeep of the houses and their contents. In addition to these advantages, the Government collects income tax and sales tax from the employees engaged in home-building. Therefore, from the point of view of government revenue, the building industry is the most important of all our industries.
Certain Queensland supporters of the Government, together with the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), have been playing party politics in regard to this matter. I know, of course, that party politics are continually brought into these debates, but I believe that this matter is above party politics, because it affects the employment of many men and it concerns the very important problem of the provision of homes for the people. All honorable members, no matter what party they belong to, should be interested in this matter, because it concerns the employment and housing of our people. From time to time we boast of the wonderful country that we are living in. No doubt it is a wonderful country, but many of the evils that afflict the older countries also afflict us in Australia, although it is a new country with many opportunities. The Minister for National Development and the Prime Minister cited figures to show the number of persons in the United Kingdom and the United States of America who are without homes, and they compared those figures with figures showing the number of people in Australia who are without homes. Such arguments provide no great comfort to homeless people, no matter which country they live in. The Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development mentioned also the percentage of people who are without homes, and we should remember that this has a most important bearing on our economy, and on the social well-being and general living standards of our people. An argument as to whether the Commonwealth or the State governments are responsible for the housing lag will not provide an additional house for homeless people, but the argument was raised by Government supporters, and Opposition members were forced to reply to it.
Thousands of Australian people are without homes to-day, and because the Government appeared to be taking no action to improve the situation it was necessary for the Opposition to bring the matter before this Parliament, as it has done by moving an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. The Australian Labour party has considered the question of housing and has decided that it is so important that the attention of the Parliament should be directed to it, so that the matter might be properly aired, and so that the people of Australia generally might appreciate the true state of affairs. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) showed colossal ignorance of the position when he stated that the difficulty was one not of finance but of man-power and materials. It is almost incredible that a member of this Parliament, or even, for that matter, a member of the general public who took an interest in public affairs, could support such a contention.
The position in the building industry to-day is that a thousand or more men have been put out of work because money for housing has not been available. Yet we hear in this place frequent references to full employment. It cannot be denied that both man-power and materials are in full supply. If the Prime Minister is concerned for the interests of private enterprise, I remind him, getting down to tin tacks, that the people who want to rent or build houses, and who cannot do so, are the ones who have to pay the piper. It is actually private enterprise, not government enterprise, that suffers because of the housing shortage. There is no doubt that timber mills and brickyards have closed. Honorable members on both sides of the House know that that is so, and that they have closed because insufficient money has been made available by this Government to carry on housing projects. It is surely a part of the policy of the Government to ensure that industries which are reasonably sound and which are helping the economy, such as the brick manufacturing industry and the timber industry, are kept in operation, and that their employees are kept in employment. Yet, we have the Prime Minister saying that it would not matter how much money was made available, that more houses would not be built, because materials and man-power would not be available. As T say. that is incredible. Apparently, the right honorable gentleman has failed to study the matter, or else he has been badly advised.
It has been generally accepted that we need to increase our population, and I suggest that if we are to do so we must consider the facts. We must see that we do not embark on fancy schemes that will not result in the population being increased as it should be. Some people accept immigration as the answer to our population problem, but what is actually happening is that, after we have spent a great deal of money to bring immigrants to this country, many return to the countries from which they came because they have not been able to obtain a home in Australia. The requirements of the human race are food, clothing and shelter, and after those requirements have been met, people need health services, educational and cultural facilities, sport, recreation and the other activities which go to make up our way of life. We often have heard the proud boast that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but like Australians, relatively few Englishmen ever own a house. If ever an opportunity existed to help Australians to obtain homes, this Government has that opportunity at the present moment by pursuing a vigorous housing policy.
It is most important that young couples should have homes of their own. If homes were readily available for young people, the population would increase at a greater rate. Many young couples will not accept the responsibilities that children bring if they are living in flats or sub-standard buildings, and in respect of which miserable accommodation they often have no security of tenure. We must make homes available for young couples, as a first step, if we want to increase the population. It must not be forgotten, either, that the building of houses provides employment.
If we are to continue to bring immigrants to this country with a view to increasing Australia’s population, we must supply accommodation for the immigrants. It has been the general policy, in respect of immigration, to concentrate on male immigrants. In the north-western part of Queensland there are approximately 2,000 male immigrants, but hardly any female immigrants. Would it. not be better tq stop bringing male immigrants to this country for a time and to concentrate on bringing out female immigrants, with the idea of balancing the sexes? I remind honorable members who may not think that this is a serious matter, that already we have in Australia social evils which were never so apparent before, because of the numbers of male immigrants that have been brought here. The standard of Australian morality definitely has depreciated because of the preponderance of male immigrants, and that is a matter which every member of this Parliament should ponder.
Members of the clergy, judges and representatives of welfare associations are very worried because of the increase of the number of delinquent children in Australia today, ls it not obvious that the ready availability of homes is the surest cure for this evil? A home means family life, and family life means a loving family unit. Children brought up under such an influence will not be delinquent, but children brought up in sub-standard homes under deplorable circumstances run the risk of becoming delinquent, because of the circumstances of their early life.
I hear interjections from honorable members opposite, but I cannot catch the words. Is there any member ,of this House who does not agree that his early family life was the most important factor in the formation of his character? It is shocking to see youngsters who could have become fine young Australians turning into delinquents and helping to fill our gaols. That would have been avoided if their parents had had proper homes and could have established a proper family life. I am not expressing only my own opinion now. Members of the clergy of every denomination, judges and representatives of welfare associations are continually stressing the fact that practically all delinquent children do not have decent homes - that they come from places where the family has not been able to keep together and exert a good influence upon them.
I turn again to the undesirability of the Department of Immigration concentrating on the immigration of males - a subject to which I referred earlier in my speechbecause I regard it as very important. This concentration of the immigration of males is creating social evils previously unknown in Australia. The best possible way to increase our population is for the people living here to have children. I have had long experience of immigration. I have been for 35 years in the north of Australia, and I have been in touch with our immigration policy since the early days of immigration to this country. In those days, north Queensland was the place upon which immigration was concentrated. In those days, the immigrants from Europe, like the English, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh, came here to improve their conditions. Most of them have become fine citizens, with a real Australian outlook. They were able to bring to Australia their girl friends in the countries from which they came. They married those girls and had families. To-day they, their wives and their children are fine citizens of Australia.
The important factor is the family. Any young man of, say, 25 or 30 years of age who comes to Australia from another country is still strongly influenced by his early home-life, but his children, if born and reared in Australia, will become real Australians. Australian-born children are, so to speak, the immigrants we need to build Australia into the country that it should be. I know personally many children of immigrants who went to school in this country and who now have families of their own. Immigration can be a great asset to Australia, but we must avoid this concentration upon males. The present policy is to bring boatloads of males to Queensland to cut sugar cane, but although about 1,000 men go to Cairns each year as cane-cutters, only about 200 remain. Most of the others go south to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and other cities when they have got a few pounds, but if their womenfolk were there, they would not leave. They .would marry and settle down.
That brings me to the question of housing, which I think every thinking member of the House will agree is one of the most important questions ever to come before this Parliament. It goes without saying that men must be kept in employment if they are to have food, shelter and clothing, and that in order to bring up their children in the right way and give them the educational and health facilities to which they are entitled, they must have homes. I point out that any money that a government spends on housing is returned to it eventually by the people , who occupy the houses, in the form of rent or loan repayments. A government does npt lose money over housing. It is only a matter of making the necessary credit available to meet a need that is of vital importance to the economy and the welfare of Australia as a whole. We have established a very high standard of living in this country, as is generally admitted, and all governments, whatever their political colour, should do all that they can, not only to maintain that standard, but also to improve it. Of course, we all have different ideas about how that should be done, but I do not think any honorable member will disagree with the statement that, from the moral point of view, the home and home-life are of vital importance, and that regular employment is absolutely necessary.
.-! rise, first, to support the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, to express my loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and to congratulate the mover and seconder of the motion.
Since I spoke during the last session on the formation of new States, I have come to realize that a great many people are interested in that subject. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to Mr. Russell Jones, of Ballarat, who has given much time and thought to it. Australia to-day is entering an era of development which was never envisaged when the first settlement took place, less than two centuries ago, and which was not fully realized even at the time of federation, 56 years ago. There is no time more opportune than now to take stock, plan ahead and organize so that development will be smooth and beneficial to all and so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated or aggravated. There is no doubt in my mind that Australia’s No. 1 problem is decentralization. Decentralization means far more than encouraging a few industries to establish themselves outside the big capital cities, although this industrial movement may be termed the .core of decentralization. Decentralization is the spreading of our whole industrial, commercial and business life evenly over the land we occupy, according to each part’s relative capacity. It is a vital national problem, and to succeed it must become a national way of thought.
We live in a country which, potentially, has the greatest promise of any in the world. What a grand thing it would be if we had a properly distributed population and industrial, transport and commercial strength, which, I believe, are vital necessaries for the proper and orderly functioning of our peace-time society and the proper and adequate usage of our country.
Now that we have our large cities, quite out of proportion to our total population, we are, to use a colloquial term, stuck with them. But if the nation is alert to the potential and actual danger of large cities then the development of these cities can be slowed and a better distribution of population and all the essentials of a modern society can be achieved. And decentralization must begin at the top. We must have wider and more intimate control through more States, because centralization of control in the big capital cities is the great barrier to the decentralization of every other form of activity.
All this cannot be achieved overnight, but if the will and the unity of purpose can be found, Australia could witness a revolution in the development of this land that would make her one of the greatest nations on earth. To deal fully with the question of new States, one must look back to Australia’s history to see how the present division of administration occurred, and where it fell short of perfection. Its basic cause lies in the fact that for many years after 1788 Britain had no interest in Australia other than as a place in which to dump unwanted citizens. Nor could Britain, at that stage of history, with poor communications, appreciate any real potential in the country. But the spirit of men here was greater than the vision of faraway politicians, and gradually the people spread out from Port Jackson to the north, south and west. As new areas developed, demands for self-administration grew, and Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia emerged. It is difficult to understand why the division stopped there. As the people spread north to Queensland and into the New England and Riverina areas of New South Wales, one might have expected new colonies to arise as people got farther and farther away from the centres of administration, particularly in view of the slow transport facilities in those days. Yet to-day we have large administrative areas in which more than half the people live in or near big capital cities. The remaining half get government at a distance.
It is no criticism of a metropolitan government to say that it does not understand or appreciate the day-to-day problems of people hundreds of miles away. Members of Parliament are, after all, ordinary people. If a member of Parliament is born and lives practically the whole of his life in, say, Sydney, he cannot, no matter how hard he may try, have a proper appreciation of the problems of the people of Bourke, or Walgett or Coonabarabran.
– Or Junee.
– Or Junee. In the first place, their way of thinking is entirely different; their lives are poles apart. And where there is no real appreciation, and no proper understanding of the problems of others, there can, unfortunately, be no true sympathy with them.
In all the mainland State parliaments metropolitan members outnumber those from the country. In Victoria, for example, there are two metropolitan members to every member from the country. If only half as many people live in the country as in the capital city it cannot, be claimed that this is unfair - no section can claim any greater proportional representation than another - but it does mean that up to twothirds of the State’s parliamentary representatives “ think metropolitan “. This is not unreasonable; in fact, it is only natural, as I have already pointed out. But it produces a state of affairs where those outside the big cities get government at a distance, and government not fully sympathetic to their needs.
I do not suggest for one moment that State governments have been totally unmindful of their obligations to all the people in their States. I am simply suggesting that people living long distances from the centre of administration would be better suited if allowed to conduct their own affairs. The metropolitan-mindedness of governments must always be a barrier to proper decentralization, and the claims of success made for decentralization policies are somewhat exaggerated. The big capital cities are still outpacing all other areas. The really big industries have all congregated in or near the capitals. After the war. many industries established annexes in country areas, setting them up in old school buildings, public halls or temporary structures. There was never any really permanent aura about them. Certainly some of them have remained, but just as many have now closed down. The movement came at a time when labour everywhere was in short supply. These industries soaked up the labour available in the country, and they have now returned to the big cities and have taken this labour with them, actually worsening the position. What happened, of course, in a great number of those instances, was that the industry so established in a country town was just large enough to utilize the spare labour available in and around the town. There were few big enough to create employment opportunities over and above the labour force available locally that would bring new people to the locality.
Now that the flush of post-war labour shortages has passed, the big industries continue to crowd the capital cities. It is argued that they must be established there because that is where the labour is. That is not a wholly valid argument. Obviously the labour is there, because that is where the jobs are. Continuing to provide avenues of employment in the big cities is only further ensuring that more labour congregates there. It must follow that if jobs are created elsewhere, then the labour will move to them. One of the classic examples of this is the Latrobe valley in Victoria. There could be no suggestion that the great industry of this valley should be established in Melbourne, because the very essence of it, the huge brown-coal deposits, happened to be 90 miles away from Melbourne. The development of the deposits was essential, and there has never been any suggestion that because they are nearly 100 miles away from Melbourne there was not sufficient labour available to do so. More often it has been that shortage of funds has caused labour to be turned away.
Another example is Broken Hill, a city of 30,000 inhabitants in what is a barren and somewhat unprepossessing area. If labour can be found for the Latrobe valley because the brown coal is there, and labour can be found to establish a city of 30,000 people at Broken Hill because the silverlead is there, it must follow that if a big automobile plant is established in a relatively small town or city the labour will move to it. There is only one difference in the two cases. In one case circumstances force the establishment on a site, whereas in the other case private enterprise cannot be forced to set up its establishments in any particular place. But governments may point the way, and can encourage such movements, whilst industry itself should be able to realize that by crowding into the big cities it is contributing to their target potential in war and to a bad balance of population in peace.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the luncheon adjournment, 1 pointed out that Australia’s number one problem, the lack of decentralization, could bc overcome only by creating more States. 1 added that only governments, by encouraging such movements, could point the way, and that industry should realize that by crowding into hig capital cities it was contributing to their target potential in war-time and to an imbalance of population in peace-time. To bring about a change, only virile and aware leadership in both fields is needed.
In addition to the defence and population imbalance factors, there is a third reason why we must endeavour to slow down, stop, or even reverse the growth of the big capital cities. It is simply thai Australia cannot afford such large cities. A factor nol often realized, but nevertheless true, is that big cities cost money. These are costs that every nation must eventually- meet, but they should not have to be met on the present scale in a country with a population of only 9,000,000.
Like our over-large administrative divisions, our big cities are a legacy of our history. They began as ports, simply to supply the needs of the settlers. They became the administrative centres for colonies covering large areas. When people began to move inland, the governments stayed where they were. Commerce gathered around them, and- eventually industry followed. Because. of this administrative failure (o reach out into the new land, as the Americans had done, commerce, industry and administration all became concentrated in the one spot, lt was simply a case of applying a European administrative concept in an Americansized country.
There seems to be, in Australia, a general conception that a State capital must also be the chief port. That is not so. It is of interest to note that of the 48 American State capitals only two. Boston in Massachusetts and Providence in Rhode Island, are ports, and of these only Boston can be regarded as being a port of any importance in the American scene. There is also the view that the capital must be the largest city. Again, only thirteen of the 48 American State capitals fall into this category. Obviously, when, a century ago, our States became self-governing colonies, no consideration was given to whether the place where the administration had been set up for the convenience of far-away England was, in fact, the best site for the capital of the colony.
It is interesting to note that, in the last 100 years, the population of Ballarat has risen from approximately 47,000 to approximately 48,000, while that of Brisbane has increased from 22,000 to 500,000. The fact that Brisbane became the chief port for the south Queensland area made it inevitable that it would leap ahead of Ballarat which was, in any case, bound to lose population as the gold rush subsided. However, it is obvious that the retention of administration at Brisbane has resulted in the proportional increase being out of all reason. Naturally at this stage it is too late to make a change. Leaving aside the enormous cost that such moves would involve, it is doubtful whether any useful purpose would be achieved, for the capitals have developed where they are. However, we should recognize them as mistakes of the past and not repeat them in the future.
Unfortunately, the mistake is already being repeated in Darwin. The capital of a territory 1,000 miles long, it is being groomed as a future State capital for the whole of that area. It is the chief port, the chief air terminal and the administrative centre. As Darwin grows, commercial and industrial life will concentrate there while the remainder of activity in the Territory, except for mining and a few other allied industries, will be left to develop more slowly. It is another Sydney or Melbourne in embryo, and 1 00 years or 1 50 years from now the scattered inland people will feel just as badly about metropolitan-dominated government there as country people in New South Wales do now. Darwin has an assured future as a port and air terminal. The Administration should be assuring a future for some other centre.
The establishment of new States cannot adjust Australia’s population imbalance overnight. In fact, the big cities have such a start that there will always be a fairly bad imbalance. However, with a realistic administrative approach to the problem, new States will achieve much that is worthwhile. First, they will give people who are now a long way from their administrative centres the opportunity to govern themselves. Secondly, they will produce more compact areas, with which the administration will be in closer touch. Thirdly, they will provide an opportunity to draw industries to particular areas. Fourthly, provided the total force is not simply enlarged, they will draw their public service from the existing and reduced States, bringing with them people to provide the necessary additional services. Fifthly, they will create avenues of employment - they will have to draw on the big cities for labour. Lastly, they will produce a change in the “centre of gravity “ of people’s thinking, a new spirit and a new interest.
All these factors must tend to slow down the growth of the big cities and build up smaller cities elsewhere, but they must be accompanied by a virile decentralization policy in the States governed from the big capitals to ensure a better dispersal of population to the new areas.
Many proposals for new States have been made. The most active movement has been in the New England area of New South Wales. Proposals have also been made for a new State in the northern half of Queensland; in the Riverina area of New South Wales; in the south-eastern corner of Australia - taking in a section of New South Wales and a section of Victoria; and in the western section of Victoria and the southeast of South Australia. This would give a total of eleven States. I propose that thirteen States should be formed in the populated area of Australia and that seven development regions should be established in the more sparsely populated area. It is difficult to say by what rules one would determine an area’s ability to govern itself but it would appear that when some of the existing States assumed self-government a population of somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 was considered sufficient. All of the proposed thirteen States would have populations well in excess of the 60,000 mark. However, if any principle of minimum population were adopted it would affect the future of the suggested development regions.
There must be a general awakening to the fact that if we are to retain our present standards of living we must decentralize. There must also be a re-adjustment of the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. There must ba a new appraisal by the States of their role as the integral cogs in the machine of the nation. There must be a re-appraisal of the role of the Commonwealth and the States. There must be a properly integrated interstate highway system and a modern, efficient railway service. The question is: Do we fool about with this problem for the next 25 years or do we sit down in a responsible manner and work out our destiny in a quiet and orderly way? The land is here for us to use. We must use it so that no one will challenge our right to any portion of it and so that the millions of Australians yet to come will be able to rejoice in the heritage that will be theirs.
.- In the course of the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) which was delivered in the House to rebut the Opposition case charging the Government with neglect of housing the right honorable gentleman, as his central claim to vindicate the record of his Government, made the statement that in five post-war years the Labour party built 202,000 houses and that in the first five years of office of the present Govern:ment, it built 388,000 houses. In that sense, building by the government means that during the period of office of a government, that number of houses was built in Australia. They were not all CommonwealthState built homes. So the statement has that element of falsity in it to begin with.
The second thing about it is that if honorable members will give their attention to the date of the fall of the Labour Government, they will recognize instantly that there were not five post-war years of Labour in office. The last five years of office of the Labour Government included the whole of the year 1945, nine months of which were months of war. Even if one were to say that in the three months in which men were being brought back to civil life there ought to have been a full labour force engaged in building houses, which I suggest would be an absurd proposition, one could still not claim that there were five post-war years of Labour government. I have sufficient respect for the Prime Minister’s acuteness of mind to believe that he would recognize that fact.
The next point is that in the first five years of office of the Liberal Government is included a period of nine months in respect of which the housing programme in operation was that which was laid down by the outgoing Labour government. The Menzies Government effectively assumed office in January, 1950, and it ran on the last budget of the Labour government until September, 1950. I do not want to bandy words with the Prime Minister. There is no question but that there has been an increase in the number of houses built. But the Prime Minister himself has always been very sensitive to one charge, and he has always made a pretty fair case in answering it. He has always been sensitive to the charge that when he fell from office in 1941, the country was in a parlous plight in terms of defence. He has always pointed to the immense amount of tooling up and the immense amount of defence construction which went on under the Liberal Government before its fall.
The Prime Minister, who is aware of that fact, is equally aware of the situation in housing. He knows very well that when he assumed office, there came to him in the course of time all the builders who were trained under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme years before he took office. He also benefited from all the investment that had gone into building materials in the years before he took office. However, to me, the vital thing is not this arguing as to which group of politicians should get the most credit for the number of houses built, but one simple fact - that every year from 1945 to 1949 the number of houses being built in Australia was increasing and that every year since about 1952 the number of houses being built in Australia has been decreasing. It is difficult to argue that that is a justifiable trend at the present time.
The Labour party’s long-term proposal in connexion with housing was quite simple. It believed that 800,000 houses should be constructed in ten post-war years, an average of 80,000 houses a year. To have attained that average, many more than 80.000 houses would have had to have been built each year in the second period of five years. The figure was arrived at from an estimate that the war had caused a lag of 400,000 houses in construction, that that lag had to be overtaken, and that, in relation to new needs, another 400,000 must be constructed.
– It was a pretty wild guess.
– I am not aware whether it was a wild guess or not, as I have not access to the estimates of marriages or other such figures. I am merely stating a fact. It is extremely doubtful whether an average of 80,000 houses a year has been built in the ten years from 1945 to 1955; and I do not think that an average of 80,000 houses has been built during the years in which the Government has been in office.
The point has been made as to the preference of the Labour party for the rental home as against the home that is owned by the occupier. In connexion with this matter, a great deal of play has been made on Mr. Dedman’s statement in the course of a debate. If we chose to use those methods, we could take the statement of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) about 40.000 houses in Sydney being each occupied by one person. We gathered from his speech that they “didn’t oughter “ and that this was opposed to the policy of the Government. If every silly statement that I have made in this House were to be visited on the Labour party it would be in a sad plight; and if every silly statement made by honorable members opposite were to be visited on the Liberal party it would be in a sad plight. The statement of Mr. Dedman never expressed the policy of the Labour party. Honorable members opposite have drawn attention to the fact that there was provision for the purchase of homes. They have suggested that that was never adequately allowed for.
The reason for the preference for rental homes in the year 1945 and for a year or two afterwards is very simple. There had been a lag in housing in the war years. There had been a greatly increased number of marriages of men in the services during the war years. There was a tremendous demand for houses. The problem that faced the Chifley Government was: How do you propose to satisfy that demand? There was one very simple way. That was to allow the person with lots of money to have the first claim on building materials and labour. That was inflationary, because it meant a period of shortage and intensely competitive purchase. It also meant thai the man with a large family who was unable to build his home but who had the greatest need of accommodation would be in the worst position in the competition for such houses as there were.
Therefore, to provide housing on a needs basis, the question of whether a person having the savings could make a purchase had to be set aside. If houses were to bo assigned according to need, the only basis upon which they could be so assigned was on the basis of rental. We may agree or disagree with that decision. We may argue that laisser-faire would ultimately have led to a better result, but what is not true is that there was a deliberate discrimination against home-ownership as a policy. All I can say about the people who went into these rental homes in 1945 is that if they are now able to purchase them at the 1945 prices of building when the basic wage was £4 5s. a week, they are extremely lucky to be able to pay off, with inflated moneytoday, a house which was built with much better money in 1945.
– The Western Australian Government is selling houses at a profit.
– If the Western Australian Government is selling them at a profit, it is a matter for another analysis to determine whether that is right or wrong. It may be that the profits can be applied to the construction of more homes.
– I am just pointing out that the honorable member has not stated the facts correctly.
– I have stated them correctly. I am explaining the motives of the government of the day. No one could foresee what has happened since 1945. I do not think any one could foresee in that year a basic wage of £13 a week in 1955.
I should like to make a point also about the design of the homes built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. As structures, they are largely unimaginative. They are extremely well built, and in the main are of brick and tile construction, but they are not very well designed. By and large, the allotments of land on which they stand are too small, and I think the rooms also are too small. However, that would have been understandable in 1945 when the government of the day was fighting this voracious demand for accommodation. I think it is now time for us to recognize that even in public housing projects one wall can be entirely of glass and not mainly of brick, and that it is possible to use mediums of construction other than the almost universal bricks and tiles. It would also be a good thing if more imaginative and more modern designs were used in these homes.
A great many interesting points have been made in this debate. I do not agree with the view that only the Commonwealth or a State Government should have the responsibility for providing homes. However, it is wrong for a government to apply a credit restriction policy to housing. If people are prepared to seek an advance from a bank in order to construct a home, and can offer the necessary collateral, it is unsound business to allow a policy of credit restriction to impede their efforts to obtain homes. I think it is true that in the Australian community there could be a great deal more home-ownership than there is, but I do not think that the responsibility for any lack of it always rests upon governments. The wages, salaries and dividends paid out in the community enable the Australian people to spend £700,000,000 a year on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. My colleague the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) put the average cost of a house at £2,500. I should have thought that £5,000 would be a better estimate. At his estimate of £2,500, the annual expenditure on alcohol, tobacco and gambling is sufficient to provide 280,000 houses, a number much greater than we could build. At my figure of £5,000 a house, 140,000 homes could be provided for an expediture of £700,000,000. No economic system - not even a perfectly working form of socialism which appropriated every element of profit and put it into the pockets of the people in wages - could sustain an adequate building programme in addition to an annual expenditure of the magnitude of 700,000,000 on things that do not matter two hoots and often represent complete irresponsibility on the part of heads of families.
I am impressed by this fact, because I have as a close friend a clergyman who gave up his position in a parish when he became physically exhausted by his efforts as an enforced matrimonial reconciliation bureau. His chief statement about the position was that the universal reason for the matrimonial troubles with which he had dealt was the number of Australian heads of families who expected to continue living as bachelors after they had married, and who, out of a wage of £15 or £16 a week, gave their wives only £7 or £8, even when there were two or three children, and maintained a level of personal expenditure that absorbed about half the family income. There are perhaps 3,500,000 families in Australia. Therefore, an annual expenditure of £700,000,000 on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling represents about £200 for each head of a family. This is an inordinate expenditure on such things. I would say that it is a sign of a wealthy community, not of a poor one. But it is a real cost in terms of education and home ownership, which it tends to destroy. As the representative of an electorate in an industrial city in which a great many members of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia reside, 1 am impressed by the number of waterside workers who, though dependent entirely on their wages, educate their children at universities and technical schools, and buy their own homes, and who will tell one that the decisive difference between those who do these things and those who do not is to be found in the degree of responsibility that a man exercises towards his own family.
There are two forms of democracy, and when we have in every section of the Labour movement the second and higher form, the movement will cut through every element of opposition as a knife cuts through butter. The first form of democracy is epitomized by saying to one’s boss, “ I am as good as you are “. The second form is epitomized by saying to aborigines, one’s wife and children, and other people. “ You are as good as I am “. That is a higher level of democracy, and if we can get in the Labour movement that discipline upon which it depends, nothing will be able to resist Labour.
Government supporters have discussed at some length the subject of unemployment in the building trade. We have in Western
Australia at the present time 5,600 unemployed. I do not suggest that that is the figure for unemployment in the building trade.
– How does the honorable member work that out?
– On 28th September last, the number was 5,399. I do not propose to tell the honorable member how I work it out. I accept completely the reliability of the figures, and neither the honorable member nor I could get them from a source more accurate than that from which I have obtained them.
– Since the honorable member asks us to accept those figures, he must prove them to us as well as to himself.
– I suggest that the Minister for Territories inquire from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who obtains his information from the same source as I get mine. The figures that I have given show a deterioration by about 200 in the employment position in Western Australia.
– The Minister for Labour and National Service says he cannot find out how many workers are unemployed.
– No one can ascertain the number with certainty, but the competent officials make estimates.
– What sort of estimates?
Order! I ask the honorable member for Forrest to cease interjecting.
– The figures that I have cited represent a very slow deterioration in the employment situation. A complete picture of the unemployment in Fremantle does not appear. If the waterside workers there averaged one day’s work in seven, as was recently the position, there would be almost complete unemployment on the waterfront. But it would not be taken into account in the unemployment statistics, although it would most certainly be apparent in reduced expenditure in the local shops. Because appearance money is paid to waterside workers, they dp not apply for unemployment benefit. However, the unemployment statistics that I have cited indicate a lower level of commercial activity in Western Australia than in the other States. A great many administrative acts of all
Commonwealth governments, though appropriate to the situation in the industrialized east, have not been appropriate to the situation in the agricultural west, and I think that credit restrictions have had a greater effect in Western Australia than in the eastern States where there are so many alternative fields of occupation, spheres of investment, and sources of finance. In Western Australia, a great deal of elementary work is still needed to meet the elementary needs of a civilized community, and the credit restrictions operating in Western Australia as a result of this Government’s policy are preventing the responsible authorities from undertaking that elementary work.
The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) addressed the House yesterday afternoon on the subject of education. I commend the Government on its decision to give greater financial assistance to the universities. Their financial needs are the product of our changing times.
In the Western world, we have had to recognize that the number of technicians we are training is inadequate; the number of engineers being trained is inadequate, and so on. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory spoke of the Canberra High School and other Canberra schools and referred to the privileges at the Canberra High School. I do not know as much about education in the Australian Capital Territory as he does, but I am sorry to hear that we have in existence in this Capital Territory the scholarship system to which he referred, because it is wholly and utterly invalid. A survey carried out by a former headmaster of Perth Modern School showed that the children who are selected at the age of twelve as being those who should get a secondary education are not necessarily the ones who get exhibitions at the age of seventeen, and that those who get exhibitions at the age of seventeen are not necessarily the ones who do the best at the universities. Different individuals develop at different rates and at different periods of time iri their lives they show excellence. If it be true, as the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory said, that the children are trained like race-horses to gain scholarships, then what is already a false index has been further falsified in the existence of a scholarship system.
What we do not recognize here are the low standards that we accept in education as normal. As a teacher, 1 taught classes of 50, and a class of 50 cannot be educated; it can only be dragooned. The same is true in this Australian Capital Territory. I have some friends who have come from Canada and what staggered them was seeing their children assigned to classes of 50 when they had been used to having their children in classes of fifteen. One private school in the Australian Capital Territory - I do not know about State schools, but I imagine they are in the same position - has had its enrolment increased this year by 80 and the increase is estimated at 100 a year for the next four years. It has already absorbed the cafeteria as a classroom, and expects to have to use the boiler-house next. There has been an enormous increase in the juvenile population in the Australian Capital Territory. The standard of staffing is inadequate. Teachers have much too large classes, and there does not seem to be an immediate prospect of providing accommodation for all the children. One thing is vital, because it will have a great effect on this country in the future: there is an urgent need for the civil servants of this Territory to have respect for craftsmen. Canberra has a very fine technical school with absolutely nothing surrounding it that would give prestige to its work. It is badly accommodated, but members of its staff really give their hearts to the pupils they are training. As the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has said, a high proportion of Canberra, people are university graduates. My wife and I are university [graduates, but the bent of one of my children, I am certain, is technical. It would be a very good thing if the people who are the advisers of the Commonwealth Government had respect for craftsmen. I do feel this is an unbalanced community which does not properly respect the craftsman and I believe it to be most desirable that the Commonwealth Government should provide for those children who show their intelligence through their hands. They are :by no means .inferior, and are vitally .necessary to society.
– Unfortunately, under what appear to me to be ‘ the somewhat “strange rules of procedure, we are debating at one and die same time a Vote of censure and the Address-in-Reply. This means that honorable members who wish to talk on subjects other than housing are left with no alternative but to ask the indulgence of other honorable members to divert the main theme of the discussion. I want to join with certain other honorable members, particularly on this side of the House, who have already spoken on the transport problems. I do not want it thought that I in any way belittle the housing problem, but I confess that if there is a problem, it seems to me the solution is relatively simple. In fact, it is as simple as it will be, when a vote is taken to dispose of this censure motion moved by the left-wing Labour party.
The debate began with excellent and interesting maiden speeches by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), and is now in its closing stages. But before it concludes I want to join with some other honorable members in discussing the transport problem. I do not think anybody will deny that transport is a much more difficult problem than housing, because of the constitutional obstacles that stand in the way and the difficulty of obtaining unanimity among, or agreement with, the six States, which have a very large responsibility in that respect. I believe, too, that all members will agree that there is probably no problem more vital than the transport problem to the stability of the Australian economy in general. If honorable members doubt that, I would like to refer them to several authorities. The first is the Tariff Board’s pre-war report entitled “ Efficiency and Costs of Production in Australian Industries “. The second is the Rural Reconstruction Commission’s six,th report, dated 11th April, 1943, which refers very trenchantly to the importance of the transport problem. There is also the 1949 report of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, on the Australian transport policy, which is probably the best report on transport in Australia yet issued. With the latter I would include the last two reports by parliamentary members, which I think are excellent. If something more recent is required one has only to look at the newspapers. Last week, a visitor, Sir Charles Goodeve, director of the Iron and Steel Research Association of
Great Britain, stated in the press that our transport system is a costly relic. He went on to say -
A dual gauge railway in Victoria would save many times the cost of laying the extra line. 1 would also refer honorable members to what Mr. Harold F. Bell, the Australian Mutual Provident Society economist, told the plastics industry conference in Canberra. He said -
Our transport system is the gloomiest spot in an otherwise not altogether unhopeful outlook for costs in secondary industry in this country.
He might have added that transport is most important also to primary industry for the simple reason that transport costs represent up to SO per cent, of food prices.
All those reports should be taken into consideration. They are the reports of experts in their own field of research, and yet they have been consistently and almost contemptuously ignored, to the detriment of the Australian economy. We must realize that transport, is, if not our biggest, certainly one of our biggest industries. Let us look for a moment at what has happened since the war ended. As soon as the war was over, all transport industries were faced with a tremendous backlog of maintenance, rolling-stock replacement, and various other legacies of the terrific strain that was placed on all forms of transport by defence requirements. In that respect I think the Commonwealth Government has a moral, if not a constitutional financial responsibility, towards the State transport systems, because although rehabilitation has proceeded - steadily in some cases, unsteadily in others - it is yet very far from being completed. Furthermore, cargoes that should be carried by sea are carried by rail and road. Cargoes that should be going on the railways are going by road. Railway competition is going on for loads that probably would be better carried by road.
In all these matters a very big problem has to be faced, and I do not think people realize the size of the problem. Roads were deteriorating under the impact of inflation before the Hughes and Vale case, which was, I think, in 1954 - nearly three years ago. Since a decision was given by the Privy Council in that case, as the Government Members Committee on the standardization of rail gauges under the chairmanship of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) states very clearly, the ruin of the roads has gone on apace and £80,000,000 to £100,000,000 is being spent every year. A large portion of that amount is being ground into dust almost by the end of the year by heavy traffic that the roads were never meant to bear in the first place.
So one could go on with this review. In shipping, efforts varying from Herculian to Lilliputian have been made to overcome the congestion on the wharfs. The import restrictions have helped very materially in that respect. Both State and Federal spheres have responsibilities. Though a lot of work has been done, as I have said, it is still far from completed. Unfortunately, our freight rates on the coast are probably the highest in the world. As the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) pointed out this morning, it costs more to bring jarrah from Perth to Adelaide than it does to bring oregon from Canada or the west coast of America to Adelaide.
Take the question of air. Civil aviation has been leaping ahead, and I think all members are glad to see that it has been developing so fast. On the other hand, it has, we must admit, been pampered and petted by subsidies out of all proportion to any other form of transport, or even to the excellent work it does in opening up outback areas and providing means of communication which were not there before. If a general survey of the whole situation since the war is taken and examined carefully, I am sure most members will agree that we seem to have taken up an attitude of “ we could not care less “. We could not care less about transport - the biggest industry, primary, secondary, or tertiary, that exists in Australia to-day. It is an industry which, as I have said, represents 50 per cent, of food costs, which takes 30 per cent., and has been as high as 40 per cent., of annual expenditure, and which takes 20 per cent, or more of annual new capital expenditure. Therefore, I suggest that it is time we took far more interest in it and endeavoured to unravel some of the knots in which it seems to be tied at the present time.
Let me refer very briefly to subsidies. Every form of transport is, to a certain extent, subsidized. It was estimated, I think, that shipping is paid for to the extent of 85 per cent, by users and 15 per cent, by the Government in various small forms. It may be less than 15 per cent. now. Rail transport is subsidized very largely through the annual deficits and yet the railways have to pay for their road bed, signalling, traffic police, stations, and everything else. Other forms of transport do not have to meet many of those expenses. As 1 said, air transport is the highest subsidized of all. If honorable members read page five of the Government members’ report on rail standardization, they will see that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge) admitted that air received a subsidy of £4,250,000 last year, excluding an allowance for capital charges on aerodromes, which, if I remember rightly, amounted to £43,000,000. The subsidy of £4,250,000 is £2 a head for every passenger who steps on an aeroplane. Just imagine if somebody suggested the railways should be subsidized to that extent, even allowing for suburban traffic! Taking the 516,000,000 passenger journeys and dividing by three, it will work out at somewhere about £400,000,000 subsidy to the railways to put them on a comparable basis with the air. I have no prejudice against any form of transport; all forms of transport are important. But I think it is time we realized some of the foolish positions we are getting into when a heavily subsidized air transport causes uneconomic shipping, for instance, between Tasmania and the mainland. The Government, in order to continue running the ship, pays a subsidy of £100,000 a year to keep it operating. In other words, a government heavily subsidized air system causes a single ship running from Tasmania to the mainland to be heavily subsidized in order to compete.
It is difficult to know the extent of the subsidy on roads. Most authorities at present feel that 75 per cent, should be paid by the users and 25 per cent, by the landowners, although the land-owners do not pay anything to the railways unless they are under a betterment rate, which to-day does not exist, to my knowledge, anywhere in Australia. An article which recently appeared in the .Melbourne “ Herald “, “ Trucks set road riddle “’. shows that in America it has recently been estimated that 26,000 miles of roads can be built to carry the ordinary private motor cars up to 2 tons in weight at no greater cost than 737 miles of roads to carry heavy truck hauliers. The proportion of capital and maintenance costs caused by a relatively small percentage of the overall road transport can be estimated and some idea can be gained of how heavily subsidized that form of transport is. by private road-users. I do not know what percentage is paid by municipalities, but it must be kept in mind that nearly all municipalities seem to be going broke, or are almost broke, in their efforts to keep up with the construction and maintenance of the roads. 1 want to go back for a moment to the report on the Australian transport policy of 1949, to which I referred earlier. I had the honour of moving the motion in the advisory council which led to the report. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who was then Minister for Transport, had the direction and control, and the costs were borne by the Commonwealth under his administration at thai time. I hope nobody will be prejudiced by its mixed parentage or by any feeling of political race segregation. If any honorable members feel that way about it, I remind them that at the present time there is a large number of members on both sides of this House who are again in agreement. If honorable members do not believe that, then they should read the report of the Government members and the report of the Opposition members on rail standardization. When the report to which I have referred was produced in 1949, we all thought we were going places. We were! We were going bush, and we have stayed there for seven years. This is most unfortunate. That report was produced by the best transport experts in Australia. They had been a long time at it, but unfortunately, rather early in the piece, I felt, the Government blew out its transport brains when it dismissed that staff at very short notice. 1 have never been able to ascertain the reason, but I can only come to the conclusion that it was due to vindictiveness which arose out of internal jealousies in the department itself. Ever since then, their successors - their dismissals did not produce any reduction in staff - have endeavoured to make up their leeway in the experience which they did not have and have produced report after report bringing the figures of the original 1949 report up to date. The only result seems to have been that we have gone deeper and deeper into a forest of figures and statistics, and apparently no one is able to find a way through the forest, or find a way out of it by going back again. Therefore, wc find that frequently when we start a discussion on transport in general we are side-tracked immediately by some one who wants to discuss one particular detail, such as whether diesel fuel should be taxed or whether petrol should be coloured. It is the old strategy of diverting attention if you do not want to make a decision. It is about time that we concentrated on the main principles of a national transport policy, without allowing ourselves to be side-tracked. I believe that the present Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) is very keen to do the job, but no Minister, however keen, can do a job if he is debarred all the time by a lack of decisions.
I am very upset, as are many other honorable members, to find that there is no reference at all in the Governor-General’s Speech to transport, except in a very indirect way. We learn that a lot of things are under review. The Governor-General said -
My Government will continue to assist primary producers to increase output and improve efficiency.
The primary producers, however, depend to a large extent on transport facilities. The Governor-General said also -
A major undertaking associated with this development is the rehabilitation of the railway linking Mount Isa to the coast.
I would again recommend reference to the Government members’ rail standardization committee and to its statements regarding that line, and its warning that we should not make another mistake such as was made with re-vamping the Darwin-Birdum line on a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge. The GovernorGeneral further said -
My Government is conscious of the increasing importance of civil air transport to national development and international relations. . . .
My Government continues to assist the development of an efficient coastal shipping service.
Everything seems to be under review. Before concluding I should like to suggest some form of action which might help us to come out of the bush and get back on a firm road, or on firm rails or some other transport system, so that we can do something which is really most important to the Australian economy.
The first thing I should like to suggest to honorable, members is that action should be taken to implement the three recommendations of the Government members’ rail standardization committee and the first two recommendations of the Opposition members’ committee. These latter recommendations are almost identical with those of the Government members’ committee. If we do this we will be laying the foundations on which we can build the future edifice of a national transport policy. I know that it is very easy to say that the Commonwealth Government should pay all the costs. I suggest to the Government that in its discussions with the States it might start off on the South Australian basis of 70 per cent, payment by the Commonwealth and 30 per cent, by the States. That will not upset the existing agreement, and I think it will probably be found that the cost of construction of the actual track itself will not amount to 70 per cent, of the total cost of the various standardization projects which have been recommended. In any case, it is a basis on which to start, and a basis that was originally approved when the South Australian agreement was made. But do not let us wait for the budget sittings. Surely the Government can provide the £25,000 necessary for the Victorian survey to be made, so that some one can get on with the job that every one admits should be done immediately.
– Some of the surveys have already been made.
That is so. Victoria asked the other day, I believe, for £25,000 to get on with what might be called the final surveys. The reports have been available now for five months, and surely a decision can be made on them.
The Australian Transport Advisory Committee has now presented another report. There are pages and pages of it. Many facts and figures have been made available, but the report says very little about the actual damage done to roads on a ton-mile basis by various vehicles. Surely the advisory committee under the chairmanship of the Commonwealth Minister, and including the State Ministers, could lay down a national roads plan and achieve some degree of uniformity among the various States. We will never achieve entire unanimity, so let us try to do what the majority believe to be the correct thing, whatever that may be, whether it has to be financed by way of taxation or some other means. I do not believe that we could not overcome the difficulties brought about by the Hughes- Vale case. I know that constitutional difficulties are hard to overcome. It is like the slogan widely adopted during the war, “ Those things that are difficult take a little time; those things that are impossible take a little longer”. We have had the little time and we have had the little longer, and I am perfectly certain that the Australian Transport Advisory Council, acting as an interstate transport commission, could make recommendations which could well be adopted and, at any rate, given a trial.
We should also review the subsidies that are in force, especially in regard to air transport, as part of a real attempt at coordination of transport based on: (a) the relevant importance of each form of transport in the national economy; (b) the cost per ton mile, which, not so long ago, was on the basis of 1-2-8-10 for sea, rail, road and air transport respectively, although those figures may have changed slightly; (c) the man-power ratio per ton-mile, which is most important to this country, and which was in the proportion of 1-4-10-46. All these things must be considered, and, as I said earlier, every form of transport has its place in the sun. Do not let us become prejudiced against any one particular form of transport. The necessary money is not provided by either the State or Federal Governments. It is provided by the people, and we are wasting a lot of this money by allowing the present chaos, confusion and indecision to continue. Therefore, I would appeal to all honorable members to consider this matter very seriously. I am not the only honorable member who has spoken on the matter. I have been preceded by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allen), the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse), the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), and probably others. Like them, I hope that I have given no offence to any one in stressing as strongly as I can the importance of the transport problem. I hope we have not been, as some one described it the other day, adding to the roar of the surf breaking ineffectually on the outer edges of the
Great Barrier Reef. I prefer to apply to our efforts the words of Arthur Hugh Clough-
For while the tired waves vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making
Comes silent, flooding in the main.
If the tide does not come in steadily, even if it does not flood, then I fear that the ship of state, which some people think will be safely tied up in port, will find itself, with the barges of transport, stranded on the mudbanks of indecision.
.- In reading the Governor-General’s Speech one is conscious, in the main, of the grave omissions, or of the things that His Excellency did not say, rather than the things he did say. I refer particularly to the all-too-brief statement that he made in regard to housing. He said: -
There has been a remarkable achievement in housing in recent years by public authorities and private citizens. My Government’s policy has contributed notably to this achievement.
With that we can all agree; the Government has contributed notably to the achievement in housing. Let us have a look, then, at what has or has not been achieved. The most masterly understatement in the Governor-General’s Speech is contained in the next sentence, in which he said -
There are nevertheless still some arrears in home building.
The Opposition, as ever, has been quick to seize upon the weaknesses of the case presented by the Government. Having in mind the theory and basis of parliamentary government, one would have thought that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would admit the weakness of his own case and handsomely concede the strength of the Opposition’s case, and remedy the grave housing defect by giving an undertaking to have appropriate action taken. Instead, he has chosen to be political. In this he has been wilfully stubborn and obstinate. All responsible bodies, including Liberal party interests in New South Wales and Victoria, have been unanimous in condemning the Prime Minister’s uncomprising attitude in this regard. He has continued to maintain that there is, in effect, no shortage of money for housing, or for the purchase of new homes, and that the difficulty lies in an alleged shortage of man-power and materials. la my electorate of Darebin, there is a number of brick-works, and on a recent inspection of one of these works I saw piles of bricks stacked high awaiting buyers. In addition, only half of the kilns were operating, so that the output of the brick-works was reduced by half. The same conditions apply in numerous other industries associated with the building trade throughout my electorate. Work does not exist for carpenters, builders’ labourers, painters and other building workers; the minimum estimate of those who are out of work at the moment in the City of Preston is 400 people. Unfortunately, the majority of those displaced workers are new settlers from overseas who have come here under the Government’s immigration policy-Or should I say lack of immigration policy.
Sufficient has already been said during the course of this debate to indicate the complete baselessness of the Prime Minister’s absurd and cynical assertion that there is no housing crisis, but only a shortage of man-power and materials. The Liberal Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bolte, according to a report in the Melbourne “ Age “ of 1 9th March, has asked the Prime Minister for additional money for home-building in Victoria. The report states -
The Premier (Mr. Bolte) yesterday called on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to make available an additional £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 for housing in Victoria. … lt would tend to stabilize the building industry, rather than cause inflation -
– Where would he get it?
– Apparently, it is the opinion of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) that to make money available now would cause inflation. I suppose that Mr. Bolte is as good a Liberal as is the honorable member for Petrie, and Mr. Bolte has said, in contradiction of the honorable member, that the availability of such money would stabilize the building industry rather than cause inflation.
On the day following that report in the “ Age “ we find, in the same newspaper, the following report: -
Building recession seen by States. Shortage of finance blamed for decline. State Housing Ministers agreed at a conference in Melbourne yesterday that a recession was developing in the building industry throughout Australia because of the shortage of finance for homes.
I do not see any reference in that report”, to a shortage of man-power and materials. The article went on -
The conference expressed this view in deciding to appeal to the Commonwealth for increased finance for homes.
At the same time, a protest was sent by Mr. Monk, the president of the Australian. Council of Trades Unions, to the Prime Minister, urging a review of the Government’s housing policy. In the same newspaper, on 4th March, it is reported that Mr. Gilmour, the secretary of the Victorian Employers Federation in Melbourne, sought a review of the general policy in regard to housing, particularly that of savings banks, including the State Savings Bank of Victoria. The report read -
A review of post-war policy had indicated that the low-income earner was being refused banking accommodation to build a home. It was clear that more and more of the bank’s money had been released to provide housing for comparatively high-income borrowers, he said.
These reports and quotations could be continued at length, as evidence of the unanimous disapproval of the Prime Minister’s cynicism in this regard.
The State of Victoria has felt, most acutely, the impact of the Prime Minister’s restrictive credit policy. Although the State has the largest intake of immigrants in the Commonwealth, and there is a shortage of 35,000 houses, the building industry to-day is in a parlous condition. The recently concluded Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, imposed upon the States by the Commonwealth, has further aggravated the position. By allocating for co-operative building societies £2,000,000 of the £10,000,000 made available to the housing commissions, this Government has merely indulged in the process of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it has prevented those people who are least able to provide houses for themselves from being housed. Secondly, by increasing the interest rate on housing loans to the States, the Government has added further to the difficulties of young families and immigrants in their vain and weary search for homes.
The average annual population increase in the Commonwealth is approximately 2i per cent., which is high according to any Western standards. If the increase from immigration alone is 1± per cent., it can be seen that at least 100,000 immigrants need to be housed annually. Allowing the economic figure of £2,000 a head for the capital requirements to house immigrants, it is obvious that the capital necessary to absorb immigrants into our economy just does not exist. On top of that again, we have our own natural increase of li per cent., which further aggravates this position. The attitude of new settlers to continued large-scale immigration is, to say the least, interesting. If the Prime Minister would deign to discuss this matter with some of our new settlers, regardless of the countries from which they come, he would find that they themselves were opposed to further immigration of the kind that is now being advocated by this Government.
Briefly, the Australian Labour party says that, in the interests of the immigrants and of young Australians, we must do one of two things. We must either make available sufficient money to provide gainful employment and adequate housing for the immigrants who are already here, as well as for our own people, or, if that is not possible, we must reduce the intake of immigrants to ‘ enable the capital that is available to be used to raise living standards for- those coming here, rather than to lower it. Of latter years, the immigration policy has been carried out by this Government on the cheap. It has been carried out at the expense of the immigrants themselves. It has been given effect with a total disregard of the human elements involved. Moreover, it has been pursued with a cynical disregard of the plight of the immigrants. Indeed, the Government has grossly exploited the fact that immigrants come from depressed areas, or from countries with lower living standards than we have.
How have we housed the immigrants? In Carlton and other suburbs of Melbourne we can see as many as 28 people living in a sixroomed house and as many as 24 people living in a five-roomed house. Will the skilled artisan come to this country when he knows that he cannot obtain housing, and when he knows that there is no certainty of tenure of employment? Of course he will not! After all, skilled labour for which a high price is paid is cheap labour, whilst unskilled labour at a low price is dear labour, as any responsible trade unionist or employer will acknowledge. It has been my unpleasant lot on all too many occasions to interview disillusioned immigrants who were returning to the countries from which they came. If we desire to attract the immigrants that Australia needs, and which are necessary for our economic well-being, then we must not exploit them and cut the ground from under their feet once they arrive here. The present housing crisis is but one of the many warnings which this Government has received for some time now. The Opposition has constantly pressed the matter and kept it before the Government.
The Leader of the House, who rudely chided the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) about an alleged reversal of his immigration policy, was only creating a divertissement to cover up the paucity of the Government’s policy. Nothing is farther from the truth than what the Minister said. The immigration policy administered by the last Labour government, in conjunction with its economic policy, did ensure that reasonable living conditions and jobs would be available for immigrants. In fact, the complaint made in those days by members of the present Government parties, then in opposition, was that there was over-full employment. They seemed to blame the Labour Government for that. Now, when we have unemployment and an acute shortage of houses, members of the Government say that they are still pursuing the immigration policy of the honorable member for Melbourne. They are not doing anything of the sort. In fact, the immigration policy of this Government is the complete antithesis of the immigration policy of the Government of which the honorable member for Melbourne was a member.
What, then, does the Prime Minister offer to the disillusioned home-seekers? He offers fewer homes for rental and a policy of dear money. This policy of dear money, T would say, received its final condemnation in the minds of most honest and honorable people when a report appeared in the Melbourne “ Sun “ to the effect that the Custom Credit Corporation was prepared to provide £2,000,000 in housing loans to help to overcome the housing shortage, the rate of interest to be 10 per cent, a year on the amount owing in each year. It was stated that Mr. Jacoby, the chairman of the corporation, had said that members of the depressed building trades had enthusiastically supported the project.
In that corporation, 40 per cent, of the snares are held by the National Bank of Australia. Is it any wonder that the farmers of this country cannot raise loans at 5i per cent., when that bank lends money at 5± per cent, to its own hirepurchase company and receives a dividend of 121 per cent, on its investment in the company? In those circumstances, are the farmers going to get money to improve their holdings and bring new land under cultivation? Of course they are not! Is the prospective home-builder going to get money to enable him to pay a deposit on a low-cost house that he will have some chance of owning before he dies? The position is absolutely hopeless. The fact that money required for home-building is being invested in less-essential activities that produce more lucrative returns does not appear to worry this Government one iota. This is the much-vaunted system of unfettered free enterprise, about which we hear so much and which is so ignobly espoused by members of the Government.
We can turn to a little socialist country - I use the word “ socialist “ without apology - called Norway. If we like, we can turn to Sweden, another socialist country. In Norway, there is an act which permits of loans up to 100 per cent, of the rateable value of a house, with a rent which the bank finds reasonable over long periods, such as 100 years for brick and concrete houses and 75 years for timber houses. The interest rate is only 2i per cent, and is guaranteed unalterable for a period of fifteen years. That system is adopted, not only in Norway, but in Scandinavia generally.
– How is the value assessed?
– It depends on the system of rating that operates in Scandinavia. I should imagine that it would be far nearer to reality than here. At least, each Scandinavian country has a uniform valuing system.
In spite of the temptation to ignore the Prime Minister’s alleged defence of his policy, one does look to see his reasons for it. Apparently, he believes that even if more money were made available for housing, more houses would not be built, because the extra money would be absorbed by increased costs and increased prices. In other words, he believes that the same number of houses would continue to be built, because the rapacious builders would absorb the extra money. If that is so, surely he condemns outright his own financial policy. Apparently, he believes that depressed living conditions, with homeless families, are now the only answers to inflation. Apparently, he believes now that it is not increased wages and cost of living adjustments of the basic wage which cause inflation, as he alleged only twelve months ago. The alternatives, therefore, are inflation with housing and depression with no housing.
Last September, the Labour party, quick as ever to appreciate the real difficulty of the Government in this matter, came to the Government’s rescue when the Leader of the Opposition repeated his offer of support for the Government in an endeavour to seek from the people the necessary constitutional powers to direct capital investment. I refer to capital issues control. That is the crux of the whole matter. If the Prime Minister fears that if extra money were made available for housing, the Government would be unable, as he alleges - which is not so - to direct capital investment to the things which should come first, including housing, why has not be accepted the offer made by the Leader of the Opposition to support him in seeking the necessary constitutional powers for the Commonwealth? Why, I ask again, has the Prime Minister not accepted that offer? Obviously, he knows that if he did accept it, the constitutional powers sought would be given to the Commonwealth, and that if he used those powers he would bite, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) put it, the hand that feeds him. In other words, he would lose caste and b*. out of favour with his supporters.
The last matter with which I want to deal concerns the social implications of housing. I refer to the provision of houses for the aged, the invalid, the indigent and those in the lowest income groups with large families. Recently, I had the misfortune to be interested in a case which involved the eviction from a Victorian Housing Commission house of a man and wife with ten children. The man. who earned only the basic wage, was £130 in arrears with his rent. Sickness had dogged that family of twelve people all told. What is the future for them? Eviction means that at least six of the children will become Wards of the State and that the State will have to look after them. 1 have said that the arrears of rent amounted to £130. At £12 a week for one child, in two weeks the arrears of rent will be absorbed by the cost to the State of maintaining those six children. So we are faced withtheabsurd position that a family is to be evicted because it owes £130 in rent to a housing commission, but the State will be required to find £72 a week to maintain the children.
The question is: Who is to bear that cost? Is it fair to ask the State Government concerned to bear it? Or is it a responsibility of the Commonwealth under its social services power? In such circumstances, is not the provision of housing accommodation a social service, the cost of which should be borne by the Commonwealth? If we look at America, we find that that principle is well and truly recognized. The federal Government of America finds two-thirds of the total cost of slum reclamation. But this Commonwealth Government, apparently, is not sufficiently aware of its social obligations to contribute anything to the cost of slum abolition. That is regarded as the responsibility of the States, who are already grossly starved financially. It is clearly a federal responsibility to provide that type of social service and also to provide houses for people who have no hope of getting them otherwise. In Norway - if I may be again forgiven for referring to a horrible socialist state - a family of thirteen does not pay any rent for its home, so much importance is placed in that country on the family unit.
A similar responsibility exists in relation to the aged and indigent. In Victoria, one third of the total requirement of homes is for single-bedroom units, yet the Victorian Housing Commission, though it is doing an excellent job with the limited resources available to it, can build only 1.7 per cent. of that requirement. The provision of homes for aged persons is more advanced in more civilized countries than Australia, where it is the responsibility of one government. The considerations that apply in those countries apply equally in this Commonwealth. We, as a Commonwealth, should assume full responsibility for the housing of the aged and the invalid, and see that these people are given sufficient money to provide them with some dignity.
I fail to see, therefore, how any rightthinking man can oppose the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition in respect of housing, which forthrightly condemns yet again the complete lack of policy of the Government and the cynical disregard that the Prime Minister has shown for this very great need.
.- This debate, so far, has confirmed in my mind two very important things: first, the complete irresponsibility on national matters of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and, secondly, the truism that there is nothing new under the sun. It might be unreal, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to expect any new approach at this stage of the debate. So I shall content myself with following the trail that has been already very well blazed. Before I do so I want to correct a few false impressions that may have been given by the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) in his speech yesterday, in an attempt to discredit the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in relation to some statement the right honorable gentleman made about a housing bill in 1927. Since the honorable member for Kennedy spoke I have discovered that everything the honorable member said on that subject is completely incorrect.
– The right honorable member for Cowper promised £20,000,000 for houses, but the Bruce-Page Government could build only twenty houses.
– That is not true.
– If the right honorable gentleman will look at the newspaper reports and the records of his old policy speeches he will see that I am telling the truth.
– The honorable member for Kennedy also said that the right honorable member for Cowper had introduced that housing bill just before a general election in 1928 when the government in which he was Treasurer was defeated. The answer to that statement is that the BrucePage Government was not defeated in 1 928. It was defeated in 1929. The honorable gentleman said that not one house had been built as a result of that measure and that all the people got was an act of Parliament. Here are the facts. An official statement of the Commonwealth Bank states that there were five housing authorities prescribed in 1929. Loans were made providing for repayment in 25 years by the New South Wales Savings Bank and in 35 years by other authorities. The purpose of these loans was to finance home construction. These loans have been repaid as follows: - By South Australia in 1942, by New South Wales in 1954, and by the Australian Capital Territory in 1954. The loans to the Workers’ Homes Board of Western Australia will mature in 1964. Loans were made as late as 1940 and 1941 to the Housing Commission of the Australian Capital Territory. The Scullin Government refused to carry out the terms of the act when it was in office, and the Chifley Government repealed the act in 1945. I think that the honorable member for Kennedy might show a little more regard for the virtue of truth when he makes statements that are intended to discredit another honorable member.
– Whom was he discrediting?
– Himself. There are many policy proposals in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech which, despite the brevity of their presentation, can have, and will have, far-reaching effects and significance on the welfare of this country. But many of those things, important though they be, have not been able to be debated at any length because of their being overshadowed by what has been called a censure motion - that is, by an attack on the Government for not having produced greater prosperity and greater development in a period of prosperity and development which is unprecedented in this or any other country. That is the truth. The censure amendment is all the more ludicrous because it was launched by a party which itself was severely censured by the people quite recently for having advocated a policy which, if it had been implemented, would have meant economic paralysis, not merely for this time, but for all time.
We know that there is nothing novel in this censure amendment. The public also should know that a censure amendment follows automatically on the opening of every new parliament or at the beginning of every new session. It is submitted as a matter of form, and not as a matter of principle. The piece de resistance in every case is the subject which has the greatest political value at the moment to the Opposition, and the political stalking-horse in this case is the subject of housing. I am one who will admit that there is a housing problem. I will also admit that there is a housing shortage - that is, if we account the shortage of housing according to the demand for houses by people who are already housed in some way or another. But I want to say, in addition, that every intelligent person in the world would regard it as extraordinary if there were not a housing shortage in a country in which the population was increasing as rapidly as Australia’s population is increasing.
There has been much irrelevant nonsense talked on this subject, and there have also been some notable contributions made to the debate by a few members of the Opposition, including the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) and, possibly, some others whose speeches I did not hear. But some statements were made which, for the sake of Australia and its welfare, could have been well left unsaid. There was glib talk by one honorable member from Queensland, where a Labour government has been in office for 35 years, and by an honorable member from New South Wales, where a Labour government has been in office for seventeen years, about people living in fowlhouses. That is the best the governments of those States can do for the homeless! I say frankly that I do not believe for one moment that that is occurring. If such a case in my electorate came to my knowledge I would help the deserving person out of the fowl-house before I would come bursting into this House to show up the political shortcomings and negligence of a government of my own political colour. All that honorable members opposite who spoke in that vein succeeded in doing was to show up the shame of their political friends in the States. However, I have said that 1 do not believe these statements about many people living in fowl-houses.
The amendment moved by the Opposition to the Address-in-Reply cannot be treated in a cavalier manner. We might ask in what degree the Government has been negligent in respect of the provision of houses. We ask ourselves, “ Should we have produced more houses, and, if so, what are the factors that have militated against our doing so? If we can build more houses, why do we not build them “ ? Those are the questions we want to approach and deal with, not the question of two or three unfortunate people who may be living in fowl-houses. What has that to do with the national problem? What has it to do with the National Government? It is a great truism, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) once pointed out, that money, of itself, will not build houses. There must also be material and man-power. It is equally true that less than a year ago, every unit of equipment and man-power available was fully committed. If, in such circumstances, more millions had been injected into the building finance pool not one more house would have been built. Instead, there would have been greater competition for goods in short supply and the price of houses, which is already too high, would have been boosted still further. The price is too high for a variety of reasons, which I have not time to enumerate in detail. I would only say, deliberately, that until we get value for our money we will continue to have shortages of everything. I do not like to cite the old “ brickie “, and I only do so by way of illustration. I learn that the average wage in the building trade is £22 a week. The skilled bricklayer would obviously receive well above that, yet he does no more work in a week than he could comfortably do in two days. The Labour party cannot escape, either industrially or politically, its share of responsibility for that state of affairs, lt is one of the reasons why houses are so dear, and why the Government dare not pour more money into the building field, where goods are in short supply. If I had time to give a few more of the reasons why costs are so high honorable members opposite might not interject so glibly.
On the credit side, let Labour be fair enough to admit that Australia has far more houses in proportion to population than has any other modern country in the world except New Zealand. We have a greater number of houses per capita than has either Great Britain or the United States of America. Australia has a house for every 3.52 people. The nearest that either Great Britain or America can come to this is America’s figure of 3.54, despite the fact that our immigration intake is immeasurably greater. The building position has eased somewhat. It is now possible to build more houses. More material is available, and in some States at least building operatives are also available. I believe that we could now build more houses without adding to the inflationary trends in the economy, or to the cost of those houses. I am equally certain that, in those circumstances, money to do this will be made available. A favourite trick of Opposition members is to attack a government which is on the eve of implementing something so that they can claim to have forced the hand of the government.
What solution of our problems does the Opposition offer? First, Labour advocates a reduction of the immigration intake. Instead of building houses to meet the demand we must, they say, stop the demand. We must keep these people out. lt reminds me of the Irish politician who always used to take a roughneck around with him to throw out any one who asked an awkward question. In the same way, the Labour party would rather end the demand for houses than fulfil that demand. It is so simple that it is a wonder some one has nol thought of it before!
The Opposition is to be severely censured for painting a completely false picture of the relative responsibility of the States and the Commonwealth. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and one other Labour supporter, admitted that the States had some responsibility. Backbenchers - and some frontbenchers - have been anxious to plaster mud on this Government because that is the only way that they can hope to rise to high places. They may do so one day. but only if they adopt different tactics.
The necessary money is already being made available to the States. After all. the Commonwealth is the custodian of the Commonwealth purse and is responsible for the economic stability of the country. The money that is made available to the States should be limited strictly to their capacity to spend it without aggravating the inflationary situation. That is already taken into consideration by the Government, but I see little disposition on the part of some States to show any concern at all for this branch of the economy. As long as they, backed by their marionettes in this Parliament, are able to blame the Federal Government for everything that goes wrong, and as long as uniform taxation is with us, they will continue to show complete irresponsibility in matters of national finance.
It is amazing to contemplate that the Opposition has complained of industrial building activity - which must keep thousands of building operatives in employment. If there were no such activity we should perhaps have unemployment of the kind that we have seen in Western Australia. What inference is to be drawn from this attack? Is Labour trying to convince the people that the Federal Government finds the money for this industrial building, or that the Government should seize power in order to prevent it continuing? As a matter of fact, little of the material used in these huge steel-framed buildings, with glass walls, would affect the materials position so far as State housing is concerned. The quickest answer one can give is that the Federal Government has nothing whatever to do with it. At least private enterprise, in putting up these buildings, is expanding and developing our economy and giving employment to thousands of building operatives.
Another moan heard from the Opposition is that in New South Wales timber mills are closing down. But the New South Wales Government is importing timber from Singapore! Last session we learned that, because of high freight rates and road taxes, it was cheaper to do this than to bring timber from the northern mills. Those mills tried to find an outlet by road hauling their timber to Brisbane, but the market there was limited. They had no alternative to closing down - their own Government was bringing timber in from Malaya! In making these accusations the Opposition is sowing seed in the hope that some of it will fall on fertile ground. At the same time, it is resolutely determined, lest any seed should fall on barren ground, to absolve the State governments from responsibility in this matter. There has been an attempt to create in the public mind the feeling that if Labour were in office it could do so much better.
I want to examine briefly what the public can expect from the newly exposed democratic socialism of what was once the Australian Labour party. Its new policy, if it is to be democratic socialist as we have read in the press, contains these things, some of which are not new. It contains the nationalization of banking and of major industries. That is not new. But it also contains items which one would not expect to find in the policy of any party which seeks the honour of governing this country. One such item involves no opposition to Communists in the industrial field.
– Do not talk rubbish!
– Wait a while.
– Do not tell little lies.
– I do not object to a man who does not know how to tell anything else but lies making that statement. This is definitely a point in the policy - no opposition to communism in the industrial field. In the press the statement is attributed to Mr. Chamberlain that this new Labour party does not believe in communism. “ But “, he said, “ we believe that a good union leader should not be debarred because he is a Communist “. That is the way he gets out of it.
I remember sitting in opposition to a Labour government for six years, and three of the six were war years, and the greatest load on the backs of that government was not the enemy but the Communist-dictated and Communist-controlled key unions in this country. Those people did not help the government. They would not co-operate. All that they did was to snipe and to hold stoppages and strikes and form a fifth column here while every nerve in the country was concentrated on self-preservation. Any person with a regard for the welfare of this country would not tolerate the return to those bad old days. Yet the Labour party has the item in its policy that I have mentioned! I want to say deliberately that it is part of a softening-up process. The world, whether it knows it or not, is gradually surrendering to the fifth column. It is surrendering either by pathetic acceptance or by compulsion. I say that there is no room in this country for any one who will offer no opposition to a return of Communist control of the key unions.
Now I want to touch on a few other things. The Governor-General’s Speech mentioned an active and balanced immigration policy, which I approve of. lt mentioned continued assistance to primary industry and stated that the Government would try to increase output. Our natural desire is to increase output, and I think that those two items are concomitant. The success of one depends on the success of the other, lt is natural to desire to increase production, but there is no logic in having a cost’ structure which will not permit us to sell the surplus in overseas markets. The best market of all is the home market, which can be increased by immigration. Let us take butter as an illustration. The population of Australia consumes 30 lb. of butter per head a year, which means that 100,000 immigrants would use 3,000,000 lb. of butter which would not have to be exported.
I have only time to refer to one other thing. That is the increased export of manufactured goods, which is meeting with great success. This country has been built on a wool economy. We are like a man with all his eggs in one basket - if it drops, he breaks the lot. If a fabric is found that could take the place of wool, our economy will burst like a pricked bubble. I believe we must have another outlet to maintain our prosperity if wool should fail and this could be obtained successfully by getting more markets for our manufactured goods. I am glad that the GovernorGeneral’s Speech suggests that efforts in that direction have been meeting with considerable success.
– It has been interesting to listen to the debate that has taken place on the Governor-General’s Speech. I think it is a unique experience, when speaking on the Governor-General’s Speech, to be limited almost to one subject. This has been brought about by the amendment which has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in connexion with housing. I intend to deal mainly with that subject but, before doing so, I should like to refer to the subject of transport, which has been raised by several members on the Government side. I quite agree with them that one of the big questions in Australia to-day is transport, not merely from the point of view of the roads, but from the point of view of the economy.
I find, in travelling between Canberra and Adelaide, on the Hume Highway in particular, that the roads are carrying a tremendous quantity of goods from one capital city to another. One honorable member on the Government side of the House said that the quantity carried was 5,000 tons a day. I do not know whether that figure is correct, but I do know that the carriage of goods by road is having a tremendous impact on other forms of transport. Our interstate sea traffic is being seriously interfered with. The number of ships that were on the coastal trade has been reduced considerably. In Port Adelaide, men are being very adversely affected by the reduced tonnage of shipping. I would not think so much about it if the people who were using the roads to carry this big quantity of goods were paying a reasonable share of the cost of the upkeep of those roads. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) who spoke on this matter, referred to the petrol tax and other taxes. I interjected, “What about a tax on diesel fuel that is used in road transport? “ The honorable member rather hedged on the question of such a tax.
Diesel transport is doing more to destroy roads in Australia than any other form of transport. Until this Government puts some form of tax upon diesel fuel that is used for road transport and makes that money available to repair the roads, I think that the highways will get in a worse condition instead of a better one. Some people say that so much diesel oil is used in industry, on the farms and in other ways that it would not be practicable to place a tax on it. But I have heard it said that some other countries have the simple method of colouring the diesel oil that is used in transport so that the tax may be placed on that oil only. This Government should give earnest consideration to that aspect.
I did want to refer to the attacks that have been made on my own party in the House. Attacks were made on the Labour party, and individuals sitting on this side of the House were accused of insincerity, their knowledge was questioned and the work that they have done was ridiculed. In reply to one of our members who happened to interject, a Government supporter said, “ You have never swung an axe and you have never used a hammer “. When that sort of statement is made by men who contend that they are superior to the Labour party it shows that they are very far down the road indeed. Opposition members have as much knowledge and experience of real, hard work, in the rural areas and elsewhere, as Government supporters have. If I liked to do so, I could talk about the number of lawyers, accountants, and businessmen on the Government benches who have never swung an axe and would not know how to wield a hammer. But I would not stoop to that sort of thing, because I realize that in this place they are doing valuable work for Australia. I would not belittle them in any way. There may be some Opposition members who have not swung an axe and are not experts with a hammer, just as there may’ be among Government supporters, but, generally speaking, Opposition members know what real, hard work is.
The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) stated that it was Labour’s policy to refrain from interfering with the Communists. The industrial members of the Australian Labour party are the only men who have fought the Communists. I quite agree that the Communists have had some success in attaining the leadership of trade unions. But I know also that we could point the finger of accusation at some aspects of the lives of men who have obtained control of other organizations in the community.
– Secret ballots solved a lot of the problems in the unions.
– They may have settled matters in some unions. I believe in secret ballots. The Chifley Labour Government was the first administration to take action to afford the benefit of secret ballots to those unions that desired them. Certain proposals that were adopted at the recent biennial conference of the Australian Labour party at Brisbane were designed not to do away with secret ballots, but to ensure that a mere handful of union members could not put a union to heavy and unwarranted expense. However, I do not propose to undertake a lengthy discussion of the merits of secret ballots. I know that the leadership of some unions has changed since secret ballots were introduced. But this does not mean that good leadership depends entirely on secret ballots. We often hear a great deal of talk about Communist control of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, and I have previously told honorable members about the position in the Port Adelaide branch of that organization. Year after year, all but one of the ten or eleven members of the executive of the branch were members of the Australian Labour party. The one exception was a Communist. If the Communists had been able to control the branch elections by unfair methods, they would have ensured the election of enough Communists to dominate the executive, and not only one. I admit that rigged or unfair ballots may take place in some unions, but, generally speaking, ballots are conducted in the Labour movement fairly and properly.
The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) attacked the Australian Labour party’s attitude to housing, and condemned the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945, which he said introduced a scheme under which the Commonwealth financed the construction of homes for rental and not for sale to the occupiers. The Minister has been telling us that sort of thing for years. Perhaps it will enlighten him if I go back a little over the history of Labour’s housing policy in South Australia. The Labour government that held office in that State from 1924 to 1927 introduced what was termed the 1,000 homes scheme, which provided for the construction of homes for sale, and not for rental. The facts that I am about to relate will make it clear to honorable members opposite whether or not Labour wants the people to become “ little capitalists “ - a term that Government supporters frequently refer to just because a former Labour member of this House happened to use it. Under the 1,000 homes scheme in South Australia a person could buy a two-bedroom brick house on a deposit of £25. That does not indicate that Labour wished to prevent the people from buying homes. The purchase of these homes was financed by the Labour Government in South Australia with repayments over 42 years. Apart from a small number of homes that were let to war widows of World War I., no South Australian government built homes for rental until the Liberal and Country League government in 1936 established the South Australian Housing Trust to build houses only for rental and not for sale to the occupiers. In spite of these facts, Government supporters claim that only nonLabour governments have done anything to help people to own their own homes.
After the South Australian Housing Trust had been formed, I asked the South Australian Premier, who was also Treasurer, to make money available under the Advances for Homes Act, which had provided for the 1,000 homes scheme, to the banks to lend to people wanting to build homes, because not one new dwelling had been built under the provisions of the Advances for Homes Act for three years. I was told that this was not necessary, because those who could not afford to buy a house could rent one from the Housing Trust, and those who wanted to buy could obtain finance from the financial institutions. That was the answer I received from a Liberal and Country League Premier, not a Labour Premier. It was a flat refusal to do anything to house the people.
After the South Australian Housing Trust had been building homes for some time, visitors from other States began to go to South Australia to see what the trust was achieving. They all warmly commended it for what it had done. It deserved commendation on the kind of house it was building. A brick two-bedroom home with separate dining and living rooms and all conveniences was available to workers on lower incomes at a rental of 12s. 6d. a week. The trust continued to build homes solely for rental, until a few years ago, when it began to make homes available for purchase. The description of Labour’s housing record by the Minister for the Army as a record of discouragement of home ownership, with the emphasis on construction for rental, does not apply in South Australia at least, where the reverse was the case, and where non-Labour governments promoted building for rental.
I do not blame the Commonwealth entirely for the present housing situation. I agree with the honorable member for Gippsland that only one or two Opposition members have laid any of the blame at the door of the State governments. I lay a good deal of the blame at the door of the State administrations, irrespective of their political colour. I think all the representatives of the State governments, both Labour and Liberal, at the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council should have taken care to see that the allocation for housing was not restricted when the loans sought by the States were reduced. I do not propose to cite the allocations and the amounts sought in detail. They were given to us by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) and, I think, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). All the State representatives at the meeting of the Australian Loan Council, irrespective of whether they belong to Labour or Liberal administrations, must accept responsibility for failing to ensure that adequate housing finance was provided. If a shortage of loan money necessitated the reduction of the amounts sought by the States, the reduction should have been applied to other fields and not to housing.
A great many new industries have been established in South Australia. In my electorate there are many new industrial establishments in which hundreds of men are employed. We do not object to those buildings being erected, but other works which in past years have had galvanized iron fronts now have newly-erected brick fronts. This makes them look very nice and people say “ What an improvement “. But in many cases the man-power and materials used could have been better used elsewhere.
I am not going to blame the State governments or the Commonwealth Government for all of that, but I say we should do something to see that the men who are available to the building industry now are fully occupied. If men are out of employment we should find employment for them. The housing figures for the whole of Australia were down by between 3,000 and 5,000 last year. We do not have fewer builders than we had two years ago. In fact, many immigrant building workers have come here since then. I am not blaming immigrants for the shortage of homes. I assure the House of that. I know from experience that immigrants are doing quite a lot of the building work in South Australia at the present time. Many gangs consist mainly of immigrants who have come to this country in recent years, some from the British Isles and some from European countries. Friends have told me of language difficulties due to the fact that a large number of the employees in joinery works come from European countries. So, I know that the immigrant is making his. contribution towards home construction in our country. But we should see to it that no man who is capable of doing building work is unemployed because of lack of financial resources.
I was pleased to hear the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) say on Tuesday night that the Government proposed to seek expert advice on the matter, and that wherever things could be rectified, the Government would take action to do so. The honorable member for Gippsland said that the Opposition was always ready to precipitate a debate on a matter about which it knew the Government intended to take action. I say to the honorable member that we are not aware that the Government proposes to do anything about housing. We only know of the problem that exists. Even if something is done by the Government after we have hammered the question, in view of the recent statement by the Prime Minister himself that lack of money was not the difficulty, honorable members opposite cannot now suddenly concede that there is a shortage of money and claim that the Government was aware of it all the time and had decided to act even before the Opposition forced this debate.
I say that there is a crisis in the housing industry. The shortage now is not as great as it was three or four years ago. I admit that. But the real crisis, as I see it, is this: I know from my industrial knowledge, gained before my entry into politics, that the first evidence of a recession in any country is a slump in the building industry. That is generally accepted. Unemployment in the building industry has a snow-balling effect. An Opposition member has detailed the reduction in the quantities of fibrous plaster sheets, tiles, and bricks produced last year compared with the previous year. Obviously, the quantities produced two years ago could have been produced again last year if there had been a demand for them, and they could be produced now. Complaints of building inactivity come not only from the Opposition benches and from leaders of trade unions; they come also from the Master Builders Association and in leading articles in various newspapers. Admittedly some newspapers are out to boot whoever they can and whenever it suits them, but in this case the protests seem to me to be justified. Newspaper reporters see the position, and if they can capitalize on it they do. I say that the housing problem is very drastic indeed.
Reference has been made to the number of empty houses disclosed by the last census. To me the figures are ridiculous. For instance, at that time my wife and I were on a train proceeding from Perth to Adelaide and because we were not in our home when the census was taken, our house was counted as a vacant house. I suppose we were only two of many such people. On one day ours was a vacant house, fully furnished, and on the next day it was occupied as usual. The number of people travelling away from home on any one day must be considerable. Mrs. Jones says to Mrs. Smith, “ We are going off to the country to Mary’s for a couple of days. Will you water the garden and feed the fowls while we are away? “ Mrs. Smith says she will, and if the period happens to include a census night, then Mrs. Jones’s house is counted as a vacant house. So much for those figures.
The Minister for the Army spoke about the number of houses tenanted by only one person, and I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) touch upon that subject and show how it affects social services. Dad dies and mum is on her own. One of the daughters asks mum to stop with her and let her house; but mum says that if she lets the house she will get only 30s. a week after paying rates and taxes, and will lose her £4 a week pension. She says she cannot afford to do that. The Government holds that to eliminate this anomaly would be too costly to revenue. The result is that in not one but almost every, street one can find a pensioner occupying a dwelling alone. If he or she goes to live with a relative the pension is lost because the property bar is applied to the house, and most properties are worth at least £1,750 at the present time.
The housing problem has many ramifications, and many difficulties, but the greatest single factor in the present situation is the lack of adequate finance. I admit that if every applicant for a war service home loan to-day were given that loan, it would not mean that that many more houses would be built because quite a lot of applicants want to buy existing premises. If a person buys my place and I move out, that does not add another home, because I will live somewhere else. I appreciate, therefore, that the total of new homes would not be as great as one might suppose, but the position would be made very much better indeed.
An ex-serviceman may come to me and say that a house is being built and it is for sale. He can get it provided he has finance. He goes to the War Service Homes Division and is told that his application will be approved but that the money will not be available for eighteen months; however, if he can get finance to carry him over that period, his advance will be guaranteed at the end of that time. The result is that the unfortunate ex-serviceman has to pay an exorbitant rate of interest for temporary financial accommodation. Ex-servicemen’s organizations have urged that this Government should take some action through its central bank powers to make money available at a rate of interest not greater than overdraft rates pending the payment by the War Service Homes Division of housing loans. That would not be inflationary. When the high cost of furnishing is added to the high building cost and the high rates of interest, the burden on young married couples is more than they can bear.
– My only reason for joining in the debate at this late stage is that I feel one of the proposals made by the Labour party in its censure motion has not received the publicity that it should receive. I should like to see it emphasized, I should like to see it highlighted and I should like to see it underlined. I refer to paragraph 3 (a) of the amendment, which reads - the immediate reduction of migrant intake.
The Labour party is calling for an immediate reduction in the intake of immigrants to Australia. Associated with that call is, of course, the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that we should have a new system of assessing the proportion of immigrants. He said that 60 per cent, of the people who come here should be British immigrants, and that we can bring in the other 40 per cent, from Europe.
This proposal is really an attack on the European section of our immigration programme. I feel that that should be known far and wide in this land. It should be known particularly by the 500,000 European immigrants to this country. They should know that the Labour party proposes now that their numbers should be reduced. Thousands of them are working hard and saving money to bring out a child, a sister, a brother, a mother or a father from behind the Iron Curtain, as so many of them are doing, or from other parts of Europe. I want them to know that the Labour party has made a proposal which will make it virtually impossible for them to do that.
One of the most valuable assets in Queensland is the sugar industry. The people in Queensland should know that the Labour party proposes to reduce the intake of European immigrants, and without European immigrants in Queensland there will be no sugar industry. Make no mistake about it! The small shopkeepers and the big shopkeepers, who know how many millions of pounds go through their cash registers each week from immigrants, should know that the Labour party wants to reduce immigration. People in the irrigation areas along the Murray River, along the Murrumbidgee River, in the Barossa Valley and in all the fruit-growing districts should know that the Labour party proposes to reduce the number of people who pick their fruit, pack it or can it. They should know it on the great developmental projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, which is the greatest developmental work in this country to-day.
– It was not started by this Government.
– Labour turned the first sod in the wrong place and that is where it finished. In that area, 50 per cent, of the work force consists of immigrants, and they should know that the Labour party has now turned against them. The 10,000 counsellors of the Good Neighbour Council - some of the most worthy men and women in this land, who give their time and their capacities to the assimilation of new Australians who come from Europe - should know that the Labour party now has turned against the immigrants.
While I am highlighting the fact that the Labour party has now turned against European immigrants, on behalf of the Government I want to say something to the European immigrants themselves. I want to say that the Liberal Government of this country welcomes the European immigrants. Only last year, we sought the best advice we could get. We called in experts from trade unions, from manufacturers, from retailers, from wholesalers, and from the banks, and we consulted economists. They studied the immigration question and said, Australia can safely and easily absorb, each year, a number of immigrants equivalent to 1 per cent, of its population “. That is the policy the Government has adopted. Therefore, I say to the 500,000 new Australians, “While a Liberal government is in office, you are safe. We asked you to come here. You are welcome here. We are grateful for what you have done and what you are doing. We are grateful to you for what we know you will do in the future “.
A natural question now arises; Why should European immigrants be attacked; where does the attack emanate; what is its source? We know that it is a direct reversal of the policy stated by Labour leaders of years gone by. For instance, the late Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, who led with great distinction the Labour party of other days, had this to say about immigration -
Immigration means security. Even more than that, it means the full development of untapped resources. It means greater production of goods and services, lt means a better, happier, more prosperous life for every Australian.
Now we are told that we must reduce immediately the intake of immigrants. That proposal is also contrary to the expressed opinion of the great trade unions of this land. The Labour party, in putting forward this proposition, is directly contradicting the expressed opinion of the great trade unions. The Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, six or seven weeks ago, examined every aspect of immigration, its effect on the union and on the economy. The conclusion reached by the association was -
Firstly the facts show that during a period of immigration (unequalled by any nation in modern history) Australia was able to advance in all directions, while, at the same time, the standard of living was not jeopardised, but, in fact, improved. Secondly, it is correct to conclude that neither the economic advances, nor the improved standard of living, would have occurred to such an extent without the immigration programme.
Our conclusion is quite definitely that there should be no pruning of the migration programme; that the migration inflow has not had a major detrimental effect on our employment situation; that Australia’s economy to-day is strong enough to absorb additional migrants, and that this absorption should result in a strengthened economy.
What the Labour party in this House is putting forward contradicts the policy stated by the late respected and esteemed leader of the party, and it contradicts the voice of organized Labour in the country. Where does the proposal come from? It has been suggested in this debate over and over again - I except the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) - that immigrants are accentuating the housing shortage. That is complete nonsense. Since the war, not fewer than 50,000 skilled building workers have come to this country. To-day, onethird of the skilled workers employed in the work force of the building industry are new Australians. Immigrants represent only one-tenth of the population, but onethird of the skilled workers in the building industry are immigrants. That shows how ridiculous it is to say that immigrants are causing a housing shortage.
Let us consider New South Wales. This point was mentioned by my colleague, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) only yesterday. If there is an acute housing shortage in any State, it is in New South Wales. Yet we find that New South Wales has had the lowest proportionate increase in population of any State. Additionally, it has had fewer immigrants than any other State. Western Australia had the greatest proportionate increase in population and twice the immigrant intake of New South Wales. Yet the Minister for Housing in Western Australia said last August that the housing shortage had been overcome in that State. It is quite interesting to go into the Parliamentary Library, examine the Western Australian papers and look down the columns of “ To Let “ and “ For Sale “ notices for houses and flats. In any case, if there is an argument on housing, how does the Labour party explain that in 1949, when the shortage of houses was twice as great as it is today, on the figures, it brought into the country 167,000 immigrants. While it was doing that, the Prime Minister of the day, the late Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, in his policy speech in 1949, said-
The great immigration drive . . . will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of all her resources and guarantee her security.
In 1949, the net immigrant intake into Australia was 150,000, in round figures, and the number of homes constructed in that year under the Labour Government was roughly 50,000. The ratio of immigrants to homes constructed was three to one. Last year the net immigrant intake was 86,000, and 72,000 houses were built. The ratio was three to one under the Labour Government and almost one to one under this Government. ls this call for a reduction in the immigrant intake being made because the immigrants are not pulling their weight in the community? Is that the suggestion? Every 100 workers that we have brought in from Europe have brought with them 86 dependants, but in our own work force for every 100 workers there are no fewer than 424 dependants. Is the suggestion that the European immigrant is not pulling his weight? Of all the immigrants that we have brought to Australia, 50 per cent, have been workers. In our native population the proportion is only 41 per cent.
If we want to see what these immigrants are doing, let us look at some production figures. Five years ago the production of steel in Australia amounted to 1,200.000 tons. To-day it has reached 3,000,000 tons, and steel is produced at a cost which is £35 a ton less than we would have to pay if we brought it in from other countries. At Port Kembla, where this great increase has mainly been achieved, over 40 per cent, of the work force are European immigrants. Let us consider also the motor vehicle manufacturing industry. The production of motor vehicles in Australia saves us £100,000,000 a year, and we find that 45 per cent, of the work force in that industry are European immigrants. Our colleagues of the Australian Country party know the importance of agricultural machinery, and I can tell them that 25 per cent, of workers engaged on the production of that machinery are European immigrants. In the manufacture of fertilizers, 25 per cent, of the workers are European immigrants. I mentioned previously the building trades, in which 33 per cent, of the work force consists of immigrants. When we consider public utilities, we find that 17 per cent, of railway workers are European immigrants, and that the proportion of immigrants employed by water and sewerage undertakings is 21 per cent., and by power supply organizations 35 per cent.
Surely, therefore, we cannot ask for a reduction in the immigrant intake because the immigrants are not productive. Why, then, is this demand made? Is it because these European immigrants are not taking their part in union affairs? Is the Labour party criticizing them and wanting to reduce their numbers because they do not take their stand alongside their colleagues in Australian industry and play an active part and accept responsibility? If that is so, how does one explain the statement by the Australian Council of Trades Unions that immigrants are now taking an active part in union affairs, not only in those union affairs that concern them as immigrants but in union affairs generally? Of the 79 union delegates at the Port Kembla steelworks, seventeen, or 21 per cent., are European immigrants. The Australian Railways Union has 5,000 immigrants anions 30,000 members of its New South Wales branch alone. Over 12,000 immigrants are members of the Federated Ironworkers Union. The Australian Workers Union has even larger numbers among its members. When we consider smaller unions, we find, for instance, that 95 per cent, of the members of the Glass Workers Union, working in the manufacture of window glass for houses and shops, are immigrants. In the Rubber Workers Union of New South Wales, 52 per cent, of the membership consists of immigrants.
I ask again, therefore, what are the reasons for this call for a reduction in the intake of European immigrants? They more than pull their weight. They accept their responsibilities. They have helped the housing situation, and they are doing more, in proportion, for the development of this country than any other section of our community. I do not believe that honorable members opposite are sincere in this call for a reduction in the intake of immigrants. They know that the chances are that the beds that they rose from this morning were made by European immigrants. It is probable that the breakfast they ate was cooked and served by European immigrants. That is certainly true of the meals that we take in our own parliamentary dining room. If some evil genius, by waving a wand, could remove from Australia all our European immigrants, then let us not fool ourselves and let us realize that the whole of our rural, commercial and industrial life would grind to a halt. If we cut down our immigration programme, I believe that we will lose the greatest opportunity that we have ever had of becoming a vibrant and powerful nation in the future. It could well be that we would also lose our chance of survival in the years to come.
As I listened to the Leader of the Opposition the other evening 1 could not help being reminded of the slogans that we see as we drive along the roads of Victoria and New South Wales, warning about bushfires. One of them, on a big placard, reads -
Remember: A tree takes years to grow, and it takes seconds to burn.
I might apply that statement to the immigration programme and commend it to the Leader of the Opposition and his followers who sit behind him.
.- I wish, first, to express a hope that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) will not leave the chamber while I am speaking. I say that only because I do not want to say anything in his absence that I would not say in his presence. I might express a wish, also, that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) were present.
Before I speak about the problem of immigration, may I say that I listened to the delivery of the Governor-General’s Speech with rapt attention, and I think I can say that I never before heard a speech of that nature better delivered. The delivery was magnificent, but unfortunately the subjectmatter, with the exception of a few bright spots, was uninspiring, and will leave the people of Australia, except for a few ardent followers of this Government, stone cold. I congratulate the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes), the mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency’s Speech, on the excellence of the delivery of their speeches and the material contained in them. I do not necessarily agree with much of that material, but it was all interesting and informative. I hope that they can keep up that standard of debate in this chamber, whether or not I agree with their views in the future.
The Governor-General’s Speech which, in effect, is the speech of the Prime
Minister and his Government to the nation, ranged over a considerable number of problems. 1 mention one of them, because it is closely associated with the matter of housing, which was the subject of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I refer to immigration.
A few minutes ago, the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) worked himself into a fever in an endeavour to misrepresent the attitude of the Australian Labour party on the subject of immigration. The Minister said that the Labour party was advocating a reduction of the intake of immigrants. That is perfectly true, but if the honorable gentleman looks at the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General, which is, in effect, the speech of the Prime Minister and his followers to the people of this country, he will find this statement -
My Government will continue an active and balanced immigration programme appropriate to our capacity. Emphasis will be placed on an increase in the proportion of British migrants-
The Government intends to increase the proportion of British immigrants to immigrants of other origins, although the Minister just now tried to lambaste the Labour party for adopting a similar policy. I suggest that he needs to wake up before he tries to misrepresent other people. The Speech of His Excellency went on - and proposals to widen opportunities for British settlers are being developed.
That is the very attitude which the Australian Labour party has adopted.
– Notwithstanding what the Minister said regarding the policy decisions of the Australian Labour party reached at the recent Brisbane conference, here are the facts. I have here the decisions in print. They included this one -
The Australian Labour party declared without equivocation that it strongly supports a programme of development and migration based upon the foundations laid by the Chifley Labour Government.
When the Minister for Immigration makes a low-down appeal to the feelings of the foreign immigrants who come to this country, and endeavours to convey to them that the Labour party is hostile towards them and the continuation of immigration, he is what the honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) called me about half an hour ago - a liar. Here are the facts. We say that we adhere without equivocation to continuation of the Chifley policy.
The Minister for Immigration has been up to his old tricks. He cannot play the game. He appealed to the foreign immigrants already in Australia to take note of the fact that the Labour Opposition, if it were in government, would prevent their wives and families from coming to this country.
– That is right.
– Let me show what a perverter of the truth the Minister is: I did not say a word to him while he was speaking, and I expect the same consideration from him. He is becoming rattled. He can give it, but he cannot take it. The federal Labour conference at Brisbane decided that there shall be “ permitted migration of the wives, children, parents and fiancees of migrants already resident in Australia “. I throw that in the teeth of this Minister who appealed to the shopkeepers of this country, who might lose a few nickels that the foreign immigrants would spend with them. As a matter of fact, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, during my life-time I have had an opportunity, because of my association with foreigners in this country, to develop a particular liking for them.
– Do not kid me!
– The Minister for the Army could not kid anybody. He is just a fat-headed humbug.
– Anybody who read his contribution to the solution of the housing problem would know that only too well.
The Brisbane declaration goes on further to say that there shall be a proportion of at least 60 per cent. British and 40 per cent. non-British immigrants.
– That is right.
– The Government, according to the Speech of the GovernorGeneral, has adopted a similar attitude. What right has the Minister, therefore, to take us to task for having a like policy. After all, we inaugurated the policy.
To show how false all this nonsense and propaganda really is, let me read from an article that was contributed to the Melbourne “Age” of 26th September, 1956. It was written by Mr. Malcolm Fraser, who, God bless him, because he is a very nice chap, is the Liberal member for Wannon in this Parliament. On the subject of immigration and its associated problems, and in connexion with inflation, he said this -
The solution to our problem is to cut min; tion to not more than 90,000 gross a year-
The Government’s proposal for this year is how much?
– One per cent.
– And in terms of individuals, how much?
– One hundred and fifteen thousand.
– Order! The honorable gentleman will address the Chair.
– lt is the policy of the Government, then, to bring in 115,000 immigrants. The honorable member for Wannon said that the number should be cut to 90,000, and he is probably right. He went on to say - not as permanent policy, but for two or three years until secondary industries can be encouraged to export, which many can do on present price levels, but which they will not do if inflation continues.
The honorable member went on to deal with those in this country who are strong advocates of a greater immigration intake, or of the maintenance of the present rate of intake.
– Why is the honorable member attacking him?
– I am not attacking him at all. I say that probably he is right in his reasoning, and I shall tell the honorable member for Forrest why I think so. After dealing with those who are opposed to a cut in the immigration intake, the honorable member for Wannon went on to say -
Fourthly, these advocates may plead migration agreements with other countries that if once cut down it is difficult to build up again. It may be so, but there are fundamental structural problems in our economy NOW.
That is why the Australian Labour party has, in a not very dissimilar manner, declared that the time has come to consolidate and to reduce until such time as the economy is in a sounder condition. But the Australian Labour party has never said, no more than the Government has said, that there shall be cessation of the intake of foreign immigrants. If the supporters of the Government think that they are going to attract the votes of immigrants to their parties by condemning, slandering and misrepresenting the party that started this great immigration policy, they have a lot of thinking coming to them, because even immigrants do not like liars.
To continue with the article of the honorable member for Wannon, he said -
If we don’t cure them wc may well break our economy and destroy Australia-
That is what we say, too - as an attractive country for migration. Where would these agreements be THEN?
I think I have exploded that argument of the Government.
Let me come to a very good and proven reason why there should be some reduction of the intake of immigrants. There exists in this country - and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) should know of it - a really shocking state of affairs regarding accommodation for immigrants. In October of last year, in this Parliament, in a courteous manner I directed the attention of the Minister for Immigration to this problem, and a lot of other problems as well. He is not a bad fellow-
– Is the honorable member referring to me or my colleague?
– In this connexion, you are better than he is, and that is not saying much. I directed the attention of the Minister to the unsatisfactory housing conditions of British and other immigrants at the Williamstown hostel. I did that at the instigation of the Ministers Fraternal and Association of Church Ministers within be precincts of the City of Williamstown, ihe Minister promised an inquiry. My complaint was aired in this House on, T think, 22nd October. On 15th November, the Minister wrote to me the following letter: -
I promised that I would have inquiries made about conditions at the Williamstown Migrant Hostel. … I am now advised that the Victorian manager of Commonwealth Hostels
Limited . . . has been in touch with the . . Reverend Absolom, who has explained that the Fraternal has been concerned about what were believed to be crowded conditions in the hostel which could affect both the morals and the health of children resident in the hosie). You also had referred to congestion in the hostel.
I had done so. This letter was prepared, at the request of the Minister, as an answer to a complaint which came, not from me - the Minister might consider me to be a disreputable person - but from people who may be regarded as being among the most reputable people in the community. If honorable members will listen while T read the letter, they will sec with what contempt the Ministers of this Government treat people who attempt to deal with real social evils and their remedy. The nature of the complaint that had been made justified a personal visit by the Minister to the hostel, rather than a request to one of his officers for a report, which was prepared and sent to me and the ministers of religion concerned. Dealing with the point of crowded accommodation, the Minister staled - 1 should explain that the standards of accommodation observed in this hostel are in accordance with the policy of which I have approved and which is applied in all migrant hostels.
By those words, the Minister indicated that the conditions which I have outlined and will describe further later apply to every migrant hostel in Australia. The letter went on as follows: -
You may recall that the existing arrangements had been recommended to me by a special and representative committee of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council. Williamstown hostel has an accommodation capacity of approximately 650. and as at present there are only approximately 430 residents, it cannot be said that overall there is any congestion or over-taxing of community facilities.
There may not be an overtaxing of facilities in the dining room and the kitchen, hi’1 there is a shocking terrible overtaxing of facilities in the living quarters.
– I think the Labour government built that hostel.
– I thought we should hear that. When the Minister’s officers wheeled that answer up to him, if they did. no doubt he accepted it with great glee. ls there any sensible person in this chamber who. knowing the conditions of 1949. would say that it would have been unreasonable to expect some unsatisfactory conditions in immigrant hostels in those days? The
Chifley Government was faced with the problem of providing accommodation for great numbers of refugees and displaced persons at a time when it was busily engaged on the repatriation of great numbers of ex-servicemen. No proper comparison can be made of conditions in 1949 and in 1957. For the last ten years, this country has enjoyed great prosperity and substantially increased production, due, not to anything done by governments, but to the goodness of providence. We have had bountiful seasons. I shall say nothing more about that letter except that it is a disgrace to the Minister.
The Ministers Fraternal then asked me to accompany them on a visit to the hostel, which I did. 1 had a good look at it on that occasion, although I had been there before. I had been there several times, as I had also to the Brooklyn and Broadmeadows hostels. At about the time I visited the Williamstown hostel, the federal Ministers concerned were enjoying themselves at what they were pleased to call a citizenship convention in Canberra. They were doing themselves pretty well, with an excellent body of people. I do not take exception to that. But let us see what effect an appeal to alleviate some people’s suffering had upon those two gentlemen. I sent a telegram to both of them. About a week ago, when I asked the Minister for Immigration in this House whether he had received that telegram from me, he said that he had done so, but that the matter was not his pigeon. He said also, referring to food, that one could get a better meal in the Williamstown hostel than in the refreshment rooms of Parliament House. He evaded the issue, but he did not take into consideration the fact that I had sent a telegram in the same terms to his colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is responsible for conditions in the hostel. I have a copy of the telegram here. Let me read it to the House.
– This comes within my colleague’s jurisdiction, not mine.
– You are trying to wriggle out of it. Now I shall deal with the other Minister concerned.
Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– I am addressing the Chair. This is what I said in my telegram -
Hansard October 30th, 1955, records my complaints re Williamstown Migrant Hostel. You promised inquiries. The outcome a letter from you which meant nothing. A few boards haw been painted at the hostel. Accommodation space for families continues so cramped as to constitute a crime by your Government against society. Example, husband, wife and two children in iwc rooms each 1 lft. 8 ins. by 9 ft. 7 ins., ceiling heigh 7 ft. 4 in. to 8 ft. Furniture arranged a: follows: Three single beds in one room, one <i the other. Three beds arranged with two touch ing the outer walls and one bed in centre o: room. This leaves 10 in. between each bec and 12 in. at head. To change clothes moths and father have to stand on bed. Imagine eni harrassment to them with growing children Five beds in two rooms and two in one room are common at this hostel.
Some honorable members opposite think that this is a matter for amusement. J remind the House that this telegram wa; sent when the Ministers concerned were having a mighty fine jollification at thi Citizenship Convention. The telegram continued -
Vacant rooms are available and should be aliocated at once to alleviate this rotten position Hostel floors are bitumen fit for a garage only. They are on outside ground level. In summer, dust blows in from screenings and sand outside. In winter, mud goes in. Few available ventilators have to be plugged to keep out dust. Thinly partitioned walls divide rooms enabling children to overhear conversations in some cases known to be obscene. Brooklyn and Broadmeadows not much better. These hostels are full of the most beautiful children. Their futures depend or better surroundings. Management in all cases i splendid. Only your Government can providthe means for essential improvement. Mr. Calwell and two Ministers of religion and self inspected hostel yesterday. All support my protest Williamstown Health Officer strongly condemn! position. Your personal inspection and action ivery necessary.
The Minister for Labour and National Service knows that I have never been unreasonable to the Government in connexion with complaints by immigrants and that in some cases I have supported the departmental attitude. But I believe that the situation in existence at Williamstown, Brooklyn anc other places demands immediate attention. However, these Ministers - I believe they are typical of most of the other Ministershave adopted the policy of referring al! complaints and problems to their understudies or departmental officers.
– I have been to both hostels.
– When were you last at Williamstown?
– I do not go every week.
– You do not know when you were there. I do not think you were ever there.
– I can assure you that I have been there.
– If the Minister assures me that he has been to these hostels, I accept his assurance, but I believe that his visits took place a long time ago. He has not been since this complaint was lodged with him - a complaint which has the backing of the best section of the community. I am sure the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) will be interested to know that the doctor who has been attending the people living in the hostel wrote as follows: -
For the past eight months 1 have frequently attended the Commonwealth Hostel- -Kororoit Creek-road, Williamstown, as medical officer. Most of those living at the hostel are forced to have two and often three beds in one room - there being no living room. When one member of a family becomes ill, often with an infectious disease, the existing conditions afford no means of isolating the patient in a single room, this being necessary not only for prevention of the spread of infection but to ensure adequate rest and freedom from disturbance. Apart from these difficulties, the existing crowded living conditions have caused much mental stress and anxiety to many mothers with more than one child. One mother was confined to Williamstown Hospital with a nervous breakdown resulting directly from the continuous strain of caring for four children who developed varicella and she could not cope with the situation under the present set-up. In view of these facts and from what I have observed at the hostel I give full support to any resolution which may result in improvement of the living conditions therein.
So the Minister need not say that these complaints are just the meanderings of a politician. They are the complaints of people who expect that Ministers will at least visit the hostels when complaints are made, and investigate them. I received from the Minister for Labour and National Service a letter dated 7th February, 1957, which I have not time to read in full. Again, it was the work of a departmental officer.
– Did the honorable member write his own letters when he was a Minister?
– I do not know that the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman) is capable of writing anything. He has not made much of a show on behalf of anybody since he has been a member of this House. The Minister’s letter to me read in part -
In any case the accommodation at present vacant will be needed for the large numbers of British and other migrants coming forward within the next few months-
– Mention the fact of £600,000 having been spent over the last few years on the hostels.
– Yes, spread over the numerous hostels all over Australia. Does that exonerate the Minister for the undoubtedly rotten conditions in this hostel? How would the Minister like to live in a room with a bitumen floor - which in his letter he calls a “ malthoid “ floor - with a door-step consisting of screenings and dust? In his letter the Minister said that it was not necessary to have three beds in each of two rooms. The fact is that the people have only two rooms in which to accommodate their beds, and the rooms measure only 1 1 feet by 6 feet. They are not fit for the housing of dogs. In his letter - or rather the letter prepared by his officers - the Minister points out that the standards adopted throughout all hostels -
So what does the Minister expect these people to do? Deprive themselves of proper living-room accommodation by putting one of the beds in the living-room, which in most cases would have already a sofa and two arm-chairs in it, and in some cases a refrigerator? That seems to be the only alternative to having the three beds in one room.
I do not want to put the Minister on edge, but I think he ought to go and see what is happening, and then he ought to rectify the position.
Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- With other honorable members, I am glad to associate myself with the House’s expression of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen, and also to compliment my colleagues, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), on the splendid content and presentation of their maiden speeches.
The debate on the Address-in-Reply and the amendment moved by the Opposition have focused attention on the subject of housing. Whilst my speech will be on that subject, I trust I shall approach the so-called problem in a positive way and put forward some helpful practical proposal to house more and more of the increasing population. I suggest that a quick review of the contributions to the debate made by honorable members opposite points to the fact that the Opposition’s attack on the Government has been virtually nullified by the citing of sound statistics, and by the public awareness that in this country our general standard of housing is high.
The true position is disclosed in section 41 of the report on the housing situation prepared by the Department of National Development. Its reference to home ownership is of more than ordinary interest. It shows that since 1 947 there has been a striking advance in home ownership in Australia. The number of occupied dwellings privately owned rose from 54.8 per cent, in 1947 to 64.9 per cent, as at the 30th June, 1954.
Later, I want to refer to the amazing development in private home construction in the United States of America. But let us note that the United States last year could claim only that 59 per cent, of homes were privately owned, whereas in Australia in 1954 64.9 per cent, of homes were privately owned. Notwithstanding the achievement in actual homes built, this Government is well aware of the need to build more homes. No government has been more keen to . house the people of Australia suitably. I suggest that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement itself reveals the desire of the Government to assist the people. Advances which have been provided through building societies under that agreement have been eagerly taken up by hundreds of people in Australia. Assistance is being sought by the applicants because this admirable system permits a family to turn to a private contractor, and erect a home of its own design on the block of land it has specifically purchased for that purpose. This is a move which, I am sure, is in the right direction, in that it will help to limit the extension of government housing areas, with homes built to a similar pattern, and often costing too much and with the quality of workmanship open to question. Advances to building societies must be increased, and State governments should withdraw from governmentcontrolled housing schemes if it is their wish to have a stable building industry with full employment.
The delay in the implementation of the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and the provisions for obtaining money under it are, so far as several of the States are concerned, most difficult to understand. How easy it seems to be for the Opposition members who have participated in this debate to speak of the Commonwealth providing more money. Members of State governments, particularly Ministers for Housing, seem to think that the Commonwealth has an unlimited income. Let me emphasize the point that, through the Australian Loan Council, the States themselves agree on the distribution of the available finance. Having done so, the State governments should, as do those engaged in ordinary industry, work within their budgets and accept full responsibility for the results accruing from the use of loan money and grants according to priorities they themselves prepare.
During the week-end, I read one of the soundest editorials I have seen in any paper. It was in Western Australia’s “ Sunday Times “ under the title of, “ Stop all this talk of Gloom “. It read -
Too often Western Australians are apt to forget the wealth they have in this State, the prosperity that is really here, and the magnificent, future just ahead.
Take a good look around and it’s certain you will find enough evidence to change that glum look and that dejected talk into something more vital and encouraging.
But how can an employee of yours or a friend of yours or a son or daughter of yours get a sense of confidence and a will to get things cracking if the only talk he hears is dispirited and full of gloom?
That reminds me that in this House yesterday, by way of interjection, I referred to several Opposition speakers as “prophets of gloom “. The debate has been very gloomy, and we would never have the confidence to deal with this problem if we paid attention to the Opposition’s jeremiad. The editorial in the “ Sunday Times “ continues -
Search around and there are facts staring you in the face that will lift you out of despondency.
Just as one example look at the way savings have increased.
There is £1 million a year being saved by employees through organized savings groups.
Money in savings banks in Western Australia has increased in the past year by £6,851,893, from £54,148,680 (£80 12s. 3d. a head) to £61,000,573 (£891s. a head).
Western Australia’s export total for the last year (1955-56 - the latest official figures) was £103,000,000.
This was £119 a head, compared with the Commonwealth average of £83 a head and the New South Wales average of £64.
I happen to know, having myself obtained the import and export figures relating to Western Australian trade with the eastern States, that the figures cited in the article are correct. Western Australia is each year importing from the eastern States goods worth approximately £89,000,000. On the other hand, it is exporting to the eastern States goods worth only £34,000,000. Therefore, the eastern States have a distinct advantage amounting to £55,000,000 over Western Australia. As a representative of the Western Australian people it is perhaps pertinent for me to point this out to honorable members representing eastern States who have so much to say about Western Australia’s share of petrol tax disbursements. One of my colleagues from Victoria has entered this field on behalf of his State and considers that Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland receive over-generous treatment. These honorable members should consider carefully Western Australia’s achievement in the export field and leave the petrol tax formula well alone. The article to which I have referred continues to say -
Wool prices remain high and reassuring. And wool means a lot - but not everything - to us. The value of our wool production in 1955-56 was £35,900,000 and our wheat £34 million. W.A. has one of the biggest chances for primary development in the Esperance deal and thousands of acres of other light soil throughout W.A. in good rainfall areas. There’s a chance of a big new industry coming to Bunbury.
More and more investment in secondary industry expansion seems to be only around the corner. You don’t have to kid yourself there’s prosperity here.
Facts and figures and the opinion of experts show clearly that prosperity is a real thing in W.A.
To me, this was a helpful and logical article, which should straighten out the thinking of many people. It exemplifies the spirit of positive approach that we need in housing.
I wonder if I might now try to define the objectives that this, or any sound government, should have in pursuing a successful housing policy. They are -
Are these not the objectives that this country is seeking to attain? Would not their achievement solve Australia’s housing difficulty? Will any one deny that these six objectives form the basis of a sound policy for any government? If so, let us note carefully that, in the post-war years, the United States has attained these objectives and by using the relatively simple device of mortgage insurance, has demonstrated the simple way - and, I trust my colleagues would agree, the Liberal way - to build millions of homes.
Only last week,I asked a question about mortgage insurance. Unfortunately, I still await a reply, but I must concede that, at times, such details are not always on record to enable a quick answer to be given to honorable members. Mortgage insurance is so relevant to this debate that I have spent some little time in research with a view to making some observations regarding it. I was interested to see that the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria had inserted in a recent report, copies of which have been available to honorable members, a paragraph dealing with mortgage protection insurance. I am speaking of something quite different.
The story of American mortgage insurance is quite fantastic. In 22 years the Federal Housing Administration has become an indispensable factor in the booming American economy. In 1955, for the seventh year in a row, American homebuilders put more than 1,000,000 new nonfarm dwelling units under construction. The total for the year - more than 1.200,000 - was the second highest on record, and had been exceeded only in 1950. In 1955, the production of many major building materials set new records. Labour requirements for new construction in 1955 reached a record monthly average of nearly 3,500,000 full-time workers. Homebuilding accounted for about 1,200,000 on-site workers. The Federal Housing Administration of the United States has, since 1934, guaranteed finance for more than 4,500,000 homes. This is a volume of accomplishment in home construction of which every country must take note. In the United States, home ownership was once a problem. A citizen of limited income found it utterly beyond his reach. To begin with, the prospective home-buyer had to put up, in cash, 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, of the purchase price. To finance the remainder he had to take short-term mortgages, usually . at high interest rates, for two or three years. He had to shoulder the burden of both a first and second mortgage. We know something of the problem in this country. Any honorable member who is doing his job has had plenty of personal experience of people who, under the present system of financing home construction, have to struggle to find a sufficient down payment for a home.
I would like to make a few observations on how mortgage insurance works. The Federal Housing Administration has made it possible for the ordinary American to buy his own home on easy, long-term credit in the form of monthly “ rental “ payments. The United States Government, as well as the purchaser, signs the mortgage papers. Two government agencies are operating in this field. One is the Federal Housing Administration, to which I have referred, and the other is the Veterans Administration, which caters for ex-servicemen only. They do not lend money. They simply endorse the loan papers. The Government promises that if the purchaser does not pay his debt it will do so, and then collect from him. He can borrow from a savings and loan association, a bank, a mortgage company or a life assurance company. The Federal Housing Administration requires a monthly payment covering interest, repayment, and local taxes not exceeding the borrower’s weekly income. His character, credit and job record are checked. With the backing of a government guarantee, a bank can loan to 93 per cent, of the contract price, or as high as 98 per cent, in the case of the exserviceman. The bank can allow 30 years for the repayment in small monthly instalments of the loan.
This is mortgage insurance. The borrower has to worry about only one mortgage and may be required to pay an interest rate no higher than 5 per cent. In addition, he pays one half of 1 per cent, per annum to the Federal Housing Administration to cover its costs. The Federal Housing Administration does not lend money or build homes, lt simply guarantees full repayment of the mortgage. It is interesting to realize that the average buyer of a governmentbacked private dwelling in the United States of America is a teacher, an accountant, an electrician, an automobile process worker, or a private secretary. Such a worker would be earning 5,000 dollars. He would buy a home and land for 11,000 dollars, acquiring a mortgage of 9,000 dollars. His house would have six rooms, including three bedrooms, and garage facilities. The term of this man’s mortgage is 23 years. On this, he makes monthly payments to the bank of 70 dollars for reduction of mortgage principal, payment of interest and local taxes. The Federal Housing Administration has discovered that the man who acquires this type of mortgage justifies the Government’s faith in his economic stability. If I had the time, I should remind the House that not many years ago the business people of America were not happy about selling a vehicle on terms. That type of transaction to-day, of course, is common practice, lt has been established that people buying a home on terms under mortgage assistance of this kind will pay their debts, as they do. in the majority of cases. The foreclosure rate under this system in America since 1934, has been a fraction of 1 per cent., namely, l 200th.
As my time is running out, I should like to summarize, for the benefit of the House, the results of this programme in America. When mortgage insurance was approved in J 934, the real estate market was in a chaotic condition resulting from the general economic situation that prevailed at that time, and intensified by faulty lending practices in use before the depression. The Federal Housing Administration insurance was a significant factor in the economic recovery that took place in the mid-‘thirties. To-day, Americans are so used to modern home-financing methods that it is difficult to realize how great a change has taken place in eighteen years. If 1 had the time, I should like to quote from the latest book issued by the administration, entitled “ Housing in the United States “, which contains a graphic presentation of this amazing development in home-construction. I conclude by saying that here is something which Australia needs; here is a positive method of stimulating the building industry and catching up on any backlag of dwellings. Could it be that the Government may have hesitated, because of the Constitution under which we work? I give it credit for having a look at the problem. This scheme could well come within the latitude that we have, as a government, in connexion with insurance. Recently, we set up the Export Payments Insurance Corporation. Why not a Mortgage Insurance Corporation to-day, so that we may move into a new era of building enterprise and success? I commend this scheme to the Government, believing that it offers this young country a practicable and definitely acceptable method of housing all the families in this developing nation who are eager to own their homes.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Dr. Evatt’s amendment) be so added.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Presentation of Address-in-Reply.
Sitting suspended from 5.37 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the House will, at the next sitting, resolve itself into a committee to consider the Supply to be granted to Her Majesty.
– As Chairman, I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee: -
Thirtieth Report. - Epitome of the reports of the First Committee and of the relevant Treasury Minutes; together with Minutes of Evidence taken by the First Committee in connexion with its first to ninth, eleventh, twelfth fourteenth and fifteenth reports.
The minutes previously presented have been tabled. I should like to say a few words in explanation. As I have mentioned, this report is an epitome of reports that were submitted by the first committee. Honorable members frequently ask what happens to the reports, whether anything is done about them or whether they are just pigeonholed and forgotten. This is an attempt to show what happens to them. Honorable members will recall that, from time to time, I have told them of arrangements that have been made with the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for dealing with these matters, and to see that they are not forgotten. Every report that we submit is sent forward to the Treasurer, who takes up with the respective departments and authorities the recommendations, comments, or criticisms that we have made. The Treasurer receives reports from the departments and authorities, and sends them to the committee, which presents them to the Parliament at the first opportunity. As I have said, the report that I am presenting to-day is an epitome of the reports that have been previously presented. It will be seen that we have set out the recommendations of the committee in one column, and the action taken by the Treasurer in another column, to enable anybody to see at a glance what has been done about the committee’s recommendations.
The reports are accompanied this time by the minutes of evidence that were taken from time to time, but honorable members will notice that minutes of evidence in respect of the tenth report and the thirteenth report are missing. As the relevant inquiries were not conducted in public, there were no minutes of evidence in those instances.
I think I am justified in saying that the reports that we have presented represent a body of principles and practices in public administration and public finance that will be of value to honorable members and to the Public Service. I think that, for that reason, the way in which we have presented the report on this occasion is worth while, because it will tend to show that the influence of the committee far transcends the action taken in respect of any one particular department. I think that the Parliament will be gratified by the way in which we have discharged the trust that has been reposed in us.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1953, I bring up the report relating to the following work: -
The proposed erection of studios for the Australian Broadcasting Commission at “ Rosehill “, Adelaide-terrace, Perth, Western Australia.
Ordered to be printed.
Consideration of Senate’s message intimating concurrence in the House of Representative’s resolution (vide page 38), subject to the following modification: -
That the committee or any sub-committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place and to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament and during the sittings of either House of the Parliament.
Senate’s modification -
That the words “ recess or “ be inserted before the word “ adjournment “ in clause 8.
– I move -
That the Senate’s modification be adopted.
It will be recalled by honorable members that we carried a motion in this place for the establishment of a joint committee to review the Constitution. That had as its purpose the continuance of the useful work that had gone on during the life of the Parliament in its earlier session, and we sent it along to the Senate for endorsement. In the Senate, the amendment was proposed and adopted, and it now comes back to us with the words “ recess or “ to be inserted before the word “ adjournment “ in clause 8.
The effect of the Senate’s modification is that not only will this committee of both Houses of the Parliament, of all sections of the Parliament, be able to carry on its work during any adjournment of the Parliament, but also, in point of fact, when there has been a termination of a parliamentary session by prorogation.
When the resolution was drafted in its original form, we followed the practice which had been established in the House of Commons, for which there are quite obvious and constitutional reasons, that if a session is terminated by prorogation, then it was natural to expect and to provide that committees of Parliament should also come to an end, and there are precedents in the House of Commons which suggest that this has been the regular practice there. But 1 think that there is some practical merit in the suggestion that has come to us from the Senate, and that is the view taken by members of the Government parties. Although we follow quite regularly the rulings and practices of the House of Commons where they appear to accord with the needs of our situation in Australia, each Parliament, of course, has its own way to make and its own problems to resolve. We having decided that henceforth we shall have a session of the Parliament annually, and it being the desire, I think, of all members of the Parliament that committees such as the Constitution Review Committee, which has a valuable public service to perform, should continue to function in any period of recess between the prorogation of one session of the Parliament and the formal opening of another, there is sound practical sense in the suggestion that these committees be enabled to continue during any such recess. That is the view that we have taken, Mr. Speaker.
I have mentioned the point of practice because there is some logic in the notion that the Parliament having ceased to exist in legal form, the committees of that Parliament also have ceased to exist. We live in a practical and swiftly moving world, and although the prorogation may legally bring to an end a session of the Parliament, it is assumed that if we are to have a session annually the Parliament will go on and resume in a new session shortly after the New Year according to the kind of programme that I outlined last week.
– Would the same thing apply to the Foreign Affairs Committee?
– I should like notice of that question, but I do not see any reason why the same thing should not apply. However, I am dealing at the moment with a particular matter, and it is the only one that I would at this stage accept authority to deal with. I have stated our view of the modification that has come back to us from the Senate, and I now recommend it to the House for adoption.
– The Opposition supports the modification. I do not think there is any doubt that prorogation of the Parliament suspends all its activities and, in addition, the activities of any committees appointed by it. It does not end them, but it does suspend them for all practical purposes. This means that a committee such as the Constitution Review Committee, which has important work to do, cannot continue to do that work after the date of prorogation. In order that this committee could do its work during the last recess, the prorogation was put back from the day on which it would otherwise have occurred. In order to be business-like, it was necessary to do this. It is perfectly true that under the common law of the Parliament at Westminster prorogation has the consequences that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) mentioned, namely, the suspension of all parliamentary activities, including those of committees. That is why we have had to set the Constitution Review Committee in motion again. This modification is important, and it will expedite the work of the committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 20th March (vide page 46), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition offers no objection to the passage of this bill the purpose of which, as the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) explained, is to authorize the payment of the proceeds of the sale of certain Japanese assets to former civilian internees of the Japanese and their dependants. Quite recently, a payment was made to former prisoners of war and their dependants. We are sorry only that the persons concerned, both former prisoners of war and civilian internees, and their dependants, have not received more. However, we are glad to note that the sale of the assets yielded more than the Government’s advisers estimated, and we hope that there will be more money available later for distribution to the victims of Japanese aggression in World War II.
.- I should like, first, to remind the House once more that this bill is now before us as a result of the efforts of a committee of exservicemen composed of members of the Government parties. From that committee of ex-servicemen there flowed the idea that provision for payments to former prisoners of the Japanese should be included in the Japanese Peace Treaty. I should like to pay tribute to General Rankin, a former member of this House and of another place, who is no longer with us in the Parliament and to have it placed on record that the original idea that this procedure should be adopted was his. The ex-servicemen’s committee formulated a proposal which was submitted to and approved by Cabinet. I believe that it is one of the most useful ideas among the many that the committee has submitted to the Government. Naturally.I whole-heartedly support the bill.
.-I have been in touch with a number of former prisoners of war since the payment from the proceeds of the sale of Japanese assets was made to them, and I can say that they greatly appreciated it. It will be recalled that a number of honorable members supported a proposal, both during the term of the Labour Government and during the present Government’s term, for a subsistence payment of 3s. a day to former prisoners of war. A committee that was appointed to investigate the proposal found against it. Former prisoners of war felt they were entitled to such a payment. They have now received payments of £32 and £54. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has said, many former prisoners of war who are not in the best financial circumstances would appreciate further such payments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20th March (vide page 41), on motion by Mr. Hasluck -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill is a simple one, and its title explains its purpose exactly. However, this debate affords me an opportunity to ventilate in this House a matter that has caused very grave concern not only to me but also to a man and his wife residing in Townsville. I put it to the House and to the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) sincerely that this matter should be investigated much more closely than has been the case up to the present time. I have the complete authority of the couple concerned to raise the matter in this House. It concerns a man named James Bowden, who is an ex-serviceman with, I understand, six and a half years’ service in the Royal Australian Air Force, and his wife, who is a nursing sister at the Townsville General Hospital. The facts are that Mr. Bowden chartered a vessel from a man named Comino in Brisbane, and put the whole-
– I rise to order. The point of order I raise concerns the admissibility of a debate on this particular subject under a bill which deals with the removal of prisoners from the Territories to prisons on the mainland. I do not wish to stifle discussion, but the forms of the House afford the honorable member ample opportunity for raising a matter such as this on the motion for the adjournment or on some other suitable occasion. I think it needs to be determined whether this bill, which deals very narrowly with the procedures under which prisoners already sentenced may be removed from a Territory to a prison on the mainland, provides an opportunity for discussing a particular case which, from my own knowledge of it, concerns the administration of justice - that is the actual trial of a man in the Territory. I do not wish to stifle discussion, but I know there are opportunities under the forms of the House for this matter to be raised on another occasion.
- Sir, I would suggest that you hear me a little further before you give a decision on the point of order raised by the Minister. I am sure that if you do so, you will come to the conclusion that this matter is relevant to the bill.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.
– With due respect, I believe that the remarks I will make are substantially connected with the bill. Although I have not yet mentioned the point - I was trying to present the facts in sequence - I should say forthwith that this man and his crew were arrested and were prisoners, and that the crew are still virtually prisoners in Samarai to-day. I believe, sir, that not only you, but also every honorable member, will agree that my remarks are connected with the bill. I will proceed with the story. Mr. Bowden, who is an ex-member of the Royal Australian Air Force, with six and one-half years’ service, put the whole of his and his wife’s life savings into modern equipment for this ship “ Alpha “, which was under charter from Mr. Comino, and then proceeded to New Guinea for the purpose of fishing for trochus shell.
It is quite true that there has been considerable and lengthy correspondence between myself and the Minister in connexion with this matter, and I have no complaint about the manner in which the Minister responded. We are dealing with a bill for the removal of prisoners from the Territory, and connecting my remarks with the measure, I ask just exactly what people must do, or fail to do, to become prisoners in New Guinea. I wish to refer also to the manner in which prisoners are treated in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
This man and his crew proceeded to Samarai, but before they did so he called on Captain Wall, the Harbour Master at Townsville, and asked him to indicate the procedure necessary in order to obtain a permit to enter the Territory. Captain Wall told him in all good faith that no permit was necessary, that, being an Australian, he was entitled to enter the Territory which was Australian mandated territory. He proceeded to New Guinea in complete and utter honesty. When he reached New Guinea he was told that he had no right to be there without a permit and was given - I want to be completely truthful about the matter - an opportunity to leave New Guinea waters and return to Australia. A cyclone was raging, and he felt that if he attempted to return to Australia under such conditions the vessel might sink and he and the three members of his crew might lose their lives.
It was suggested later, when this question of the elements was taken into account, that he could have sneaked from island to island and got back to Townsville in that way. I put to the House and to the Minister, who I hope will investigate this matter a little more fully than he has done, whether that was a fair proposition to have put to this man having regard to all the circumstances. However, he did not leave New Guinea, and he and his crew were arrested. I know it is not the province of the Minister to interfere with the functioning of the law. I appreciate his difficulty in that respect, but I also appreciate the terrific hardship caused to this man, the members of his crew, and his wife when he was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for three months. He was thrown into prison in Samarai for three months and each member of his crew was imprisoned for one month. For what? Each day we read in our daily newspapers about serious crimes that are committed in the States but which do not, in the mind of the courts, warrant imprisonment for a term of three months.
All this man is guilty of, unless the Minister can tell me of anything else - and I have this man’s complete authority to challenge the Minister in this regard - is that he entered New Guinea waters without a permit to do so. He was imprisoned for three months as a prohibited immigrant. When the case was brought to my notice by his wife, who was very distressed, I immediately sent a telegram to the Minister. After an exchange of telegrams, Mr. Bowden was released on two- sureties of £50, with an additional £50 to be provided to meet his return fare to Townsville. The fact of the matter is that his wife was unable to obtain the extra £50. I wired the Minister informing him that the order was that he would be released on two sureties of £50 provided he left the Territory within 28 days. I put it to the Minister that once his fare was booked and he had left, the two sureties of £50 would be refunded to him and that one of the sureties could be used for the purpose of repatriating him.
– Order! The honorable member is getting away from, the bill.
– The fact of the matter is that these men were imprisoned in Samarai. No necessity exists for this bill or any other bill in order to return them. When they were released this man returned, at his own expense, of course; but the other three men are still virtually prisoners because they are not allowed to leave the ship which is under confiscation’ at Samarai. The Minister has told me that was done at the request of the owner of the ship. I spoke to the owner and he is exceedingly anxious that the ship be returned to him. 1 realize that this matter is not absolutely related to the bill, but the debate has given me this opportunity to express my disgust at the manner in which this ex-member of the services has been treated. He could easily have been given a permit in New Guinea when he got there. That would have been only a formality, I understand. Why was this man thrown into prison at Samarai when a little bit of common sense and tolerance could have overcome the whole matter? The whole of his life’s savings are gone. The ship is still tied up at Samarai. The three members of his crew are virtually prisoners because they are not permitted to leave the ship. The man who owns the ship cannot get it. I should like the Minister, if he would be good enough, to have a much closer investigation made into this matter to see if the imprisonment of this ex-serviceman is justified or not.
– I will not delay the House long, but I would like to take the opportunity to draw the attention of honorable members to the present state of gaols in the Northern Territory.
– I rise to order. Apparently my previous point of order was not substantiated. Here we have a bill, the narrow terms of which, like the narrow terms of the parent act, concern only the question of prisoners already serving sentences, and the procedures that are to be followed if they are to be removed from a temporary gaol to a gaol in the southern States. You, sir, permitted the honorable member for Herbert to discuss a particular case that arises out of the laws of a Territory and the courts of a Territory. The honorable member for the Northern Territory proposes, now, to discuss the conditions that operate inside the gaols of that Territory.
– I would ask the honorable member for the Northern Territory to confine his remarks to the purpose of the bill.
– Speaking to the point of order, I wish to direct the attention of the House to the fact that if the gaols in the Northern Territory were in a proper state, prisoners would not have to be removed from them. I would like a ruling on thai submission.
– The position is that any reference to the gaols would not be in order. It would be outside the scope of the bill.
– in reply - As the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) did raise certain matters, I assume I will be allowed to touch upon them, briefly, in reply. I never imagined they would be raised on this bill and I have not brought the papers with me. Consequently. I will have to speak from memory.
The broad outline of the facts is much as represented by the honorable member for Herbert, but one or two points need to be brought out more clearly. In the first place, the laws of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in respect of immigration, customs, and shipping are very similar to the laws which operate on the mainland of Australia in respect of those matters. What happened was that this small vessel, with a master and crew, intending to engage in trochus fishing left Townsville and, either through ignorance or because of bad advice, left without any ships’ papers. They left without any permit to enter the territory and they left without any permit to. fish in Territory waters. When the boat arrived at the first Territory port, officials of the port, carrying out their duty in administering the laws of the Territory, boarded the boat and. said, “Where are your papers? “. They had no papers. They were asked, “ Where is your permit? “. They had no permit. They were asked. “ What are you- here for? “. Their reply was thai they were going to fish. They were asked for their licence to fish but they had no licence. That situation, which was quite a simple and customary one, was complicated by the fact that during the voyage from Townsville to Samarai there had apparently been some disagreements on board the vessel and two members of the crew deserted the ship, took refuge on the land, and said they were not going to travel with this man any more. That presented a further complication.
The first action that was taken by our district officials was entirely in the interests of the master of the vessel. They used their good offices first of all to persuade the two men who had deserted the ship and had refused to sail with this man any longer to return to the ship. Having patched up that difficulty, in the interests of all concerned, our district official said in effect, “ You have committed about three offences. We are not going to take any notice of them. What we advise you to do is to return to Townsville and everything will be all right “. No action was taken.
Some time later this ship, which was thought to be on its way back to Townsville, was reported at another part of the Territory, making landings on other islands, and actually engaging in fishing. Not having the papers with me I will not venture to say how many days or weeks later that was. The ship was actually engaged in fishing. The officials asked it to return to Samarai, and having returned to Samarai, they were, in view of this flagrant defiance of the law, obliged to administer the law and charges were laid. Instead of three charges being laid the officials acted rather temperately and laid charges in respect of only one offence. The men were brought before the court in the same way as they would have been brought before a court in Australia and the sentence was passed. It is usual in such cases that the sentence of imprisonment is suspended as soon as the bond is furnished and the men can return. In due course a bond was furnished and the master of the ship was liberated.
There was another complicating element which the honorable member for Herbert has overlooked. It is a question I will not canvass at length because it may involve litigation; but the owner of the ship who had leased or chartered this vessel to the man who had landed in New Guinea interposed and by a message to the Administration started to assert his rights. I do not know the facts of the case, but he represented that this ship had been chartered under circumstances which amounted to misrepresentation, that it had been taken out of Queensland waters without his knowledge, and that the amount of the charter had not been paid. I know nothing of the truth of these details, but those were the facts as represented to our officials in New Guinea and on the representations of a person entitled to make them, namely the owner, the ship was seized. The procedures throughout were exactly the same as would have happened in the Queensland port of Townsville if the traffic had been in the reverse direction. Substantially, the law of the Territory on these matters is no different from the law that operates in Townsville, and if a New Guinea ship had done the same sort of thing and landed in the same sort of way in Townsville, exactly the same sort of thing would have happened.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20th March (vide page 47), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This measure is comparatively simple in its intentions. Those who are familiar with the Australian apple and pear industry in the primary sense and in the export sense are aware that all export operations are supervised by the Australian Apple and Pear Board.
Under the act governing it, that board is charged with certain functions relating to the export of these fruits and I would say that over the long number of years that this instrumentality has been operating, generally speaking it has done a very good job indeed. I would hesitate to support any action that would be detrimental to its operations. I believe that it has substantially benefited the growers in all the work it has carried out. Under the existing act the growers of apples and pears can be levied by the board to an amount not exceeding Id. per case of all apples and pears exported from Australia in any one year. It is now discovered that that amount is insufficient to cover the administrative and operative expenses of the board and to provide also a fund sufficient for the board to engage in publicity in the export markets of the world for the purpose of encouraging the consumption of more Australian fruit overseas. It is perfectly obvious that, in the circumstances that have arisen in the last few years, when the Government of this country has allowed galloping inflation to run its course, that a board like the Australian Apple and Pear Board could not possibly carry on effective work with the revenue derived from a levy charge of Id. a case. Consequently, it is essential that additional funds be found for it.
– There is some difference in prices overseas, too.
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) points out that there is some difference in prices overseas. I take it that he means that prices overseas are higher now than when the Id. a case was first levied. That is perfectly true, but that does not get away from the fact that if it had not been for the galloping inflation in this country an increase in the charge levied on the grower would not have been necessary. If the economy had been stabilized, as was promised in 1949 by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his famous policy speech when he said that he would put value back into the £1, the present levy of Id. a case would be ample. But we have to face realities, and the Government is proposing to levy a charge not exceeding 2d. a case. A charge less than 2d. can be levied, and it may reach 2d., but not more than 2d. a case. T have no alternative, nor have members of the Opposition, as realists, but to agree to that proposition. We regret that it is necessary. It is no fault of ours that this additional charge must be inflicted on the apple and pear growers of Australia. The blame for it must rest fairly on the Government, which has been in office from 1949 to 1957.
– What about competition from overseas countries?
– The honorable member is no doubt referring to competition from the United States of America, South Africa and other countries. Competition in the United Kingdom has made the position more difficult for the Australian exporter of apples and pears. Consequently, it is necessary to spend more money on propaganda in overseas markets. The day has gone when the United Kingdom Government bought fruit direct from the Government of Australia, as it did during the war period. We have to face realities. There is not a member on this side of the House who does not wish this industry well. It is conducted by a large number of primary producers, particularly in Tasmania, Victoria and, to a smaller extent, in other States, lt is a very healthy industry. It is highly technical, and the type of people engaged in it are most competent. If any honorable member visits an apple and pear growing district he will be impressed by the tidiness of the farms and the homes of the growers and the general appearance of the district. To be successful, the growers have to devote infinite care and attention to the industry throughout the whole year. The practice of keeping their orchards clean and trim is reflected in the neat appearance and condition of their homes and farms generally.
Unfortunately, the Minister (Mr. McMahon), in his second-reading speech, did not provide much information. He says that the revenue expected by the Australian Apple and Pear Board for this year from the penny a case levy will be about £20,000. A simple calculation would show how many cases were to be exported. Can the Minister say whether that calculation has been made?
– I have not made it.
– If the £20,000 were reduced to pence that would indicate the number of cases that will be exported this year. The growers are depending on the home market, which is a very important and growing market. The consumption of apples in Australia is about 8,000,000 bushels a year. 1 am speaking in round figures.
– It is about 12,000.000 bushels.
– That is excellent. I assume that exports amount to about 6,000,000 cases. At the outbreak of war, the total crop in Australia was about 13,000,000 bushels, of which 6,000,000 were exported and 6,000,000 consumed locally. Now we are informed that the local market absorbs 12,000,000 bushels, and that 6,000,000 bushels are exported. That is a lot of fruit, and it is clear that this is an important industry. It should be assisted by every possible means at the disposal of this Parliament.
I should like some information on a matter relating to the administrative operations of the Australian Apple and Pear Board. Essentially, the board has to know where any exporter is sending his fruit. It must know who are the exporters, and in those circumstances it requires each exporter to have a licence before he can operate. Recently, I learned that some practices which were, perhaps, essential during war-time were still being followed. At the outbreak of war, a number of agents in Perth, Western Australia, had a monopoly of the exporting trade for the duration of the war. No new exporters were allowed to intrude or to get a licence. During the war, that was a satisfactory arrangement. It was not necessary for new exporters to engage in exporting apples and pears. The policy of the government of the day was not to waste man-power, but to control industry in the interests of the over-all war effort. Now I have heard that it is contended that since the six agents operating in Perth during the war were adequate to deal with the apple and pear export trade no one else should be allowed to obtain a licence to export. Now that the war is over it is believed that these operations should be carried out by private enterprise. The fostering of private enterprise is one of the principal planks of this Government’s policy. I have learned that recently a situation has arisen in which, if an export agent in Sydney applies to the Australian Apple and Pear Board to become a buyer and exporter of fruit from Hobart, Tasmania, he is barred. He is told that the particular function of exporting fruit from Tasmania is confined to export agents already licenced and resident in Hobart. If that condition applies, as it could apply in other centres also, then surely it is a most improper ‘ interference with the freedom of trade and with the right of an agent in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide to be an exporter of fruit not only from any of those cities, but also from Hobart or
Perth. The principle could be extended throughout the Commonwealth. I ask the Minister whether this practice, which is operating under the jurisdiction of the board, is not most improper.
– The apple-growers are fairly satisfied with it.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) would not know, and I take it that he is not authorized to speak for the apple-growers of Hobart. He represents a Western Australian electorate.
– They grow apples in Western Australia.
– The honorable member is highly intelligent if he has discovered that apples are grown in Western Australia for export. He says that the apple-growers are satisfied. I ask him: Does he know the mind of the apple-growers in Hobart? Does he know whether the Hobart apple and pear growers would like more buyers as competitors for the purchase of their fruit. Does he or does he not know? I do not profess to know, either, but I ask whether it is a fact that this policy is at present being operated. This House is entitled to know.
– The Minister agrees with me, and thereby rebukes the honorable member from Western Australia. I think my request is a fair one. We should know those things, and I think some growers would be astonished to find that competition for their export apples is being deliberately limited, if that is the case. I may have been wrongly informed. I know that representatives of the exporters are members of the board. A complaint was made to me that those exporters have access to the detail of the business dealings of competing exporters. I know that, perhaps, it is difficult to avoid that happening, where members of a board represent growers, exporters and other sections of the trade. In those circumstances, it could happen that an exporters’ representative on the board would know the details of the markets, the prices and the destinations of fruit produced by a competitor. If these things are true, I ask the Minister to take steps, to the extent that is practicable, to see that this position is corrected.
I wish the bill well. I support it, and all 1 say, finally, is that I regret that an additional charge has proved to be necessary.
.- First of all, I wish to reply to the statement of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) in relation to the licensing of exporters. The present regulations of the Australian Apple and Pear Board provide that any exporter who demonstrates a permanent interest-
– Ah! Nobody else is allowed to establish himself as an exporter and to start a new line in life!
– Any person who demonstrates a permanent interest in being an exporter will be granted a licence.
– That is socialism.
– I shall reinforce that by saying that it was socialism under the honorable member for Lalor when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. He supported this in a stronger degree. It is true to say that there is a widening of the right of an exporter to engage in the trade. I make that point at the outset.
I shall direct my remarks solely to the bill. The Apple and Pear Export Charges Act 1938-1947 provides for a maximum charge of Id. a case on apples and pears exported from the Commonwealth subject to a lower rate being prescribed by regulation. The purpose of this bill is to amend the act in order to raise the maximum charge which may be imposed from Id. a case to 2d. a case on apples and pears exported from the country. In common with the honorable member for Lalor, I deplore the necessity to raise any of the charges imposed upon export applegrowers, whether those charges be freight, other transport charges, or anything else that will diminish their return. But I quite honestly believe that this is an appropriate measure to be put before the Parliament. The amount raised by the previous contribution is £20,000. That amount is largely taken up in administration costs and, in fact, that amount does not go anywhere near achieving the real objective for which it was collected.
Having seen some examples of our other industries, such as the wine industry, languishing for want of propaganda in the United Kingdom, I strongly believe that we fall down very badly in advertising our goods in that country. In the first instance, I should like to make it quite clear that I really do believe that, if a few more pence were spent for each person and a higher return obtained for the individual grower, then something really worthwhile would be achieved. For many years we have not properly advertised our products in the United Kingdom. I am referring, of course, to apples and pears. In Tasmania, we produce the largest quantity of the fresh fruit products of Australia. Therefore, 1 believe that it is necessary to advertise properly the products that we put on the market. The important thing that will be provided by this bill will be publicity for our products, and that has been lacking.
I do not want to talk at length on the bill, but I want to make one or two points in the short time that I shall be speaking on this subject. Since the war, successive governments have asked all primary industries to raise their production and their standards of production. That is to say, they have been asked to improve the standard of the goods they are putting on the export market. I sincerely believe that the apple and pear industry is one industry that has quite positively improved its standards of presentation on the market. Before the war and almost immediately after the war, with the acquisition scheme, it was more or less accepted that a grower could put on the market in the United Kingdom what was called the old dump case of apples and could expect to obtain a reasonable price. In this postwar competitive world, much higher standards of presentation are required. I am proud to say that the Australian apple and pear industry has met those requirements. Growers are trying to lessen their costs by adopting bulk handling methods. Instead of the old tedious business of picking fruit individually, putting it into a case, carrying the case into a shed and going through all the processes, growers are now putting all their fruit into one large container on a tractor-trailer and are taking it into the shed, straight to the grader and there continuing the process of lowering costs by using, as it were, chain production methods.
On the subject of presentation, I have said that the idea seemed to be that if fruit was put in a dump case, that would be good enough. But that is not the position now. From that method we have progressed to a case of a higher standard. That is called the Canadian standard case. We have gone beyond that again and the newest proposal, which I believe will be popular in the industry, is to put the same quantity of apples into a cardboard container. That cardboard container can be extremely attractively labelled and has been adopted by Canada already. Last year, I understand, using those cardboard containers, which are easily disposable, Canadian growers obtained a premium on their initial pack of 14s. a case, and that is a pretty high premium. Our people are keeping abreast of that standard. The point 1 wish to make is that the Tasmanian apple-grower in particular and the Australian grower in general, are doing their very best to improve the standard of production, to reduce their costs as much as possible, and to improve their presentation. Therefore, 1 think it is true to say that the Australian apple and pear grower in general has vastly improved what was a rather haphazardly conducted industry.
I shall now refer directly to the bill. I agree with the honorable member for Lalor when he says that it is regrettable that it is necessary to raise the charge. However, 1 sincerely believe that eventually it will repay the grower, because, as the honorable member for Lalor, a former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, knows, there is now intensive competition from the Argentine with its depreciated currency, Canada, America, and, in recent years and in particular in the past year or so, from South Africa, with its short haulage distances and cheaper freight rates and labour. I honestly believe that every single penny that is spent on advertising our products is very well spent.
Without labouring the question for too long, may I point out that the Government is making a direct contribution to overseas publicity through its trade promotion policy in the United Kingdom. Officials of the Department of Trade and people employed by it are spending money directly on the apple and pear industry. It will be noted, therefore, that the grower himself and the Government in a wider sense, and also directly in England, are assisting to promote the industry. I support the bill.
.- Being a fellow Tasmanian with the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder), I should like to go .on record as having supported this bill, and to contribute to the delightful degree of unanimity which so far has characterized the debate. We have moved from the subject of housing, and now we are enjoying, as I said, a degree of unanimity.
The important aspect of this bill is the boost it will give to publicity - a matter that was dealt with very effectively by my colleague the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and my colleague from Tasmania, the honorable member for Franklin. The greater part of the Tasmanian apple industry is within the borders of the Division of Franklin and the remainder of it isin the electorate that I represent with a small section in Bass on the East Tamar. So both of us are vitally concerned in this industry, which is important not only to the island state of Tasmania, but also to the whole of Australia. As the honorable member for Franklin said, if I heard him correctly, the rise of a halfpenny a case in the levy will return another £10,000 a year to the Australian Apple and Pear Board, making available a total of approximately £30,000 for administrative purposes and for boosting overseas publicity. The board’s report for the year ended 30th June, 1956, reveals that it received £18,392 from levies at the rate of three farthings a case.
The measure before us provides that the board shall have authority to raise the levy to 2d. a case, should it need to do so, for 1958; but it is assumed that it will need to raise it to only lid. I hope it will not be necessary to raise it beyond Hd., because added costs to primary producers mean less money in their pockets. The middleman never suffers in any increase of costs, because the cost is always passed on to the producer on the one hand and the consumer on the other. I agree that, when one has regard to the great advantages which flow from overseas publicity and the resultant increase of exports, the increased levy is not excessive. We are all aware, as is the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), of the very great competition we are now experiencing from countries which before the last war did not export certain primary products. The effect of that competition on Australia, which depends so much on exports, has been very great.
The popularizing of our products is the primary aim of the Apple and Pear Board, and that is the justification for its existence. A certain amount of expenditure is incurred by all boards. A form of socialism attaches to them, but I have noted that, whatever government has been in office, it has retained existing boards. This Government, which claims to be a great supporter of private enterprise, which it has placed on a pedestal almost for the purpose of worshipping it, has retained 90 per cent, of the socialist enterprises that were established by Labour. Th;a is the direct answer to all its clap-trap about the evils of socialism. The Australian Apple and Pear Board is a socialist board which is helping the industry to obtain markets overseas.
Government supporters interjecting,
– I regret that my remarks have not met with approval on the other side of the chamber. The board’s report indicates that in 1947 only eleven countries bought our apples and pears, but that in 1956 the number had risen to 17. That is a great tribute to the members of the board, particularly when it is recalled that competition from South Africa, the Argentine and other countries within the last few years has been so great. Our apples and pears go to the following destinations. The United Kingdom, which is our biggest buyer, Eire, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, Aden, Egypt, the Persian Gulf, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Burma, Philippines, Malaya, Indonesia. Hong Kong, Indo-China, Mauritius, Mombasa and the Pacific Islands. To get our products into some of those countries has required the exercise of very great pressure by our selling agents, and one must pay tribute, first, to our trade commissioners and, secondly, to the men who interview the buying organizations for the work they have done in selling our products. There is no doubt that they have made a great effort. In 1948 we exported from Australia 3,666,224 cases of apples, and last year, 1956, we exported 4,609,536 cases. A consideration of those figures will show the value of publicity and of the work of our trade commissioners overseas.
An interesting suggestion is made in this report about improving the condition of our exports. Mention is made of packaging, labelling and wrapping as being very important matters in the selling of our products overseas. The suggestion is made that all our apples should be marked “Australian “. The report says -
So as to make the publicity more effective it is most important that the labels on export boxes give prominence to the word “ Australia “, as the whole campaign is directed towards the consumption of “ Australian “ apples and pears.
I am sorry that I must disagree with that suggestion. Tasmania produces 40 per cent, of the Australian apple crop totalling 5,297,000 bushels. I know that a lot of people would like to see all connexion between Tasmania and the mainland severed, and would like to see us handed over to another country, because we cause so much trouble with shipping and other difficulties. However, we grow a distinctive apple. It is known all over the world and appreciated in every country. We should, therefore, have the privilege of labelling our apples “ Tasmanian “. It is unfortunate that we have six States when we undertake to publicize our products for export, but I believe that if a particular State is world renowned for its special kind of production, then its products should be labelled with the name of that State. The label should show “ New South Wales, Australia “, or “ Victoria, Australia “, or “ Tasmania, Australia “. This is merely a suggestion. I realize that the campaign is an Australian campaign, but we should not overlook the fact that the produce of certain States is distinctive, and in this case I feel that our apples deserve the special designation “ Tasmania “ when they are sent for sale in the United Kingdom.
– The honorable member wants to sell them, does he not?
– That is my point. I am afraid that labelling Tasmanian apples “ Australia “ will not help to sell them.
I now wish to deal with the subject of shipping freights. The Australian Apple and Pear Board referred in its report to the increases in freights negotiated in 1956. It will be remembered that the shipping companies originally demanded an increase of 10 per cent., but after the Government had exerted certain pressures - which it did not exert on the last occasion that a freight rise was granted - the shipping companies said they would be satisfied with an increase of 7i per cent. However, at the’ end of last year the shipping monopolies, led by the conference line, which controls 21 shipping lines, were able to obtain an increase of 1-4 per cent, in freights between Australia and overseas countries. This means, in effect, that freights have increased by 21i per cent, in two export years, 1956 and 1957. The report says that this increase will have a very serious effect indeed on our export trade in apples and pears. Naturally these freight increases affect every industry. We know that producers’ margins are low enough in any case, but the increase of 21 i per cent, in freight rates in two years will add greatly to the difficulties of the apple-growers in Tasmania and in all other States. Honorable members on this side of the House protested when these increases were negotiated. As far as we know, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), apart from ‘ arranging negotiations between shipowners and exporters, did nothing constructive to prevent the shipping companies from obtaining that 14 per cent, increase in freight rates.
– As my colleague reminds me - unnecessarily, I may say - the Government deserves a strong censure for the way that it lay down and allowed the shipping companies to walk over it.
– That is private enterprise!
– Yes, and this is a private enterprise government. It allowed the shipping companies to get away with these increases in freight rates, and probably there will be another request for an increase this year. The Minister hides behind the argument that the Government must not interfere in negotiations conducted between shippers and shipping companies. That is merely a cheap, easy way out. The Minister showed no fight whatever in this matter. The only hope that we have of obtaining justice in our dealings with the shipping companies is to change the government. The shipping monopoly has Australian producers and consumers by the throat, and is strangling them most effectively. Until we break the shipping monopoly’s control of freight rates we will continue to go down hill instead of progressing. We are an exporting country, and on our shipping freights depends the prosperity or otherwise of thousands of small farmers, small fruit-growers, small wool producers, wheat-growers and dairymen. A government that will lie down and allow these private monopolies, with head offices in London, to control our destinies, without putting up a fight, is not worthy of the name of a federal or national government.
– What is the Australian Country party doing about it?
– I have not heard any protest from its members.
In conclusion, 1 wish to refer to the matter of palletization. As honorable members may be aware, this technique is being introduced into Tasmania for the handling of apples and pears that are exported. Instead of being handled in slings between wharf and ship, the cases of apples are now placed on pallets, the bases of which are about 4 inches from the wharf floor. A fork-lift truck picks up the pallet, which may hold 40 or 50 cases of apples, and takes it to the side of the ship. The pallet and its load are then lifted on board and lowered into the hold. The pallet, together with the cases of apples that have been placed upon it, is then moved around the hold, and the cases are stacked in position by means of a fork-lift truck. This is a most effective method of handling apples and pears. The members of the Waterside Workers Federation in Tasmania, to their credit, have co-operated in this quicker and cleaner handling of our produce between wharf and ship.
– They just watch the cargo go by, do they?
– Practically. But the interesting point is that if the Waterside Workers Federation had not agreed to this technique, we would have had to continue with the old, slipshod methods. The honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) is probably suggesting that we could reduce the number of waterside workers because of the introduction of palletization, but that is not the answer. When the fruit ship is in port there may be other cargo ships there as well, so that we would still have to retain the present complement of waterside workers. I wish to read from the report of the Australian Apple and Pear Board some interesting remarks on this subject. The report says -
During 1956 the use of pallets was extended to the port of Hobart and confirmed the experience at Port Huon. Among the main advantages are the freedom from bruising because of the less number of handlings of individual boxes, the smoothness of stacking operations on the wharfs and the time saved in the turn-round of ships. Tasmania, with the large volume of exports which has to be moved by road transport in a limited time, is ideally situated for this type of loading.
It is to our credit and to the credit of our waterside workers that this new, modern method of handling apples and pears has been introduced, and I hope that it has come to stay in Tasmania. With these few remarks, I have great pleasure in supporting the bill.
.- There is one aspect of this legislation to which I want to direct the attention of the House quite briefly. Before I get on to that point, may I, for the education of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), point out that there is a vast difference between an organized marketing scheme and socialization. We believe in organized marketing, and recognize that the product remains the property of the producer. The supporters of socialization do not believe that. The socialist policy is confiscation, so that the product becomes the property of the government or of the community. There is the essential difference. How the honorable member can associate orderly marketing schemes with socialization and, as a socialist, support them, I do not understand.
In connexion with the honorable member’s complaint about the rising shipping freights, let me say that we are just as vociferous as he is, or perhaps more so. I suggest that he assist us in registering our protest with the Western Australian Labour Government against the exorbitant increase in shipping freights which it has imposed through the monopolistic shipping line which it operates. So the sin, if there is sin, is not only on one side. Of course, one side cannot see the sin in its own supporters.
This bill provides for an increase in the levy to be made on the producers of apples and pears for export for the purpose of meeting the additional costs of trade promotion activities. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) pointed out in his second-reading speech that the Australian Apple and Pear Board was participating in the overseas trade publicity drive in co-operation with other statutory commodity boards and the Commonwealth, and requires increased revenue for this purpose. I want to point out, before I proceed with my remarks, that this bill highlights the fact that the apple and pear growers, in conjunction with the rest of the primary producers of this country, are willing to help themselves in their own interests, because the bill is being introduced with their agreement. That is an essential feature of primary-producing industry. Primary producers favour selfhelp, even if it means taking a proportion of the proceeds from the sale of their products to assist their industry on a wide basis. Other industries are also to receive benefit from the Government’s trade publicity drive. That is the point that I come to.
I am hoping that the Minister is able to assure me that the export primaryproducing industries alone will not be asked to carry the full burden in order to create a greater demand for their products. The other export industries - and there are some - must make sure that they also are contributing adequately to this co-operative effort to put Australian products on the market. If they do, the apple and pear growers will be quite satisfied to meet the increased costs of £10,000 a year, just as the other primary-producing industries will be satisfied.
It is very hard for those of us who are interested in all industries, but in primary industries in particular, to accept the willingness of those persons who are engaged in primary industry to help themselves to this degree when we suspect that there are other export industries, and other sections of the community, which are prepared to accept the indirect help which the contribution of the primary-producing industries makes to campaigns and to government activities of this nature. They not only are willing to accept that but also often insist that the Government, and therefore the general taxpayers, including the primary producers, shall bear a portion of the costs involved in helping their industries. So it will be refreshing and welcome to receive from the Minister an assurance that other industries are contributing not indirectly as taxpayers but directly from the proceeds received for their goods, to these publicity campaigns to assist the development of their own industries, as the primary producer will do in this instance. I support the bill.
.- Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, may 1 just say, very briefly, a few words about this legislation. In common with other honorable members, I support the bill. This, of course, is one of the few, but nonetheless welcome, opportunities that we have of seeing some degree of unanimity in this chamber. What is being asked for in the increase to a maximum of an extra Id. a case is, by the nature of things, a very small additional levy, and I should imagine that every apple and pear grower would welcome it for the purpose set out by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) in his short speech.
So far, we have heard comments on this bill from honorable members from Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, but I take the opportunity of reminding the House - because I have a horrid suspicion that honorable members may not be fully aware of this - that without question the most palatable apples and pears in Australia are grown in the Mount Lofty ranges of South Australia; and 1 invite honorable members in a week-end, or during a wellearned recess, to visit my district, because, after all, I live in this delectable area myself, I grow a few of these fruits, and I can vouch for their excellence.
– Do they eat the cores up there?
– I would suggest to the right honorable gentleman who has just interjected and to other honorable members that they should become more discriminating in their choice of fruits, and should go out of their way to insist upon a variety from this part of South Australia.
– South Australian grapes are very good.
– They are indeed, but the South Australian apple, on occasions, can match the grape, too. What I would like to suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry is that we should not only consider the wisdom of this legislation for making this levy to provide more money, with the Government contribution, for trade promotion purposes overseas, but we should also not forget the possibilities of the internal market. It is true that there is a very real degree of fruit consumption in Australia, but with the rapid development of our population, which is increasing, as we all know, at an unprecedented rate, I feel, and
I have felt for a long time, that we should be doing far more in the way of advertising at home the merits of our fruits and inducing, by devious means, many of our new settlers - to use an old cliche which I remember from my school days - to eat more fruit.
– Would an apple a day keep Dr. Evatt away?
– The right honorable gentleman has suggested that, and the same thing, I must confess, had occurred to me, too. It is a very good maxim i: ed for Government supporters, and for all the people in this country, that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
The only other thing I want to do, sir, is to make some observations on what my friend the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said about overseas freights. There cannot be a single member of this Parliament who views with equanimity these constant rises. None of us likes them; all of us, no doubt, gnash our teeth with indignation when we hear of these ever-mounting freights and, I might add in parenthesis, the constant increases of passenger fares between this country and Europe. But the honorable member and. 1 suspect, those who sit with him, whilst fulminating against these increased charges, simply will not face up to what is the alternative. The Opposition, so far, to my knowledge, has not put forward any practical suggestion that sensible people in this country could follow. How can we possibly contemplate effectively breaking the overseas shipping monopoly, distasteful and possibly injurious as it is to our interests, unless we ourselves can put an effective mercantile marine on the seas, at competitive rates, and which can trade between Australia and other countries at rates which exporters can pay? We can do it, as I see it, only on one condition, and that is that the Government comes out with an immense subsidy which, of course, will involve a considerable additional burden upon the taxpayers.
I did not intend to raise this point, sir, but as the honorable member for Wilmot took it up I feel that these observations should be made. It is not good enough to express our natural indignation against these increases unless we ourselves, in the management of our own economy, are going to take steps to see that our own merchant shipping conditions are increased to such a degree of efficiency that we can trade with other countries of the world and can carry our produce to countries abroad at competitive freights. So far as 1 see it, no alternative suggestion has been put up, and until that is done it certainly is not good enough, for propaganda purposes, to castigate the Government and the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), and to try to represent falsely to the people of this country that this Government does not care, and is not doing enough. If the truth were known, of course, it would be appreciated that the right honorable gentleman has been doing an immense amount; but he is not a magician. He cannot suddenly produce ships out of a hat and carry our cargoes abroad at freight rates that our producers will gladly pay.
– in reply - I rise mainly to answer two questions that have been put to me by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). The first question, if I may paraphrase it, is whether there is a monopoly in the exporting of Australian apples and pears - in other words, whether it is possible or practicable for the board to grant licences to people who might want to get into the exporting business. I think I can say with certainty that the board takes a generous view of this problem and is only too anxious to grant export licences if it thinks that the facts justify the granting of licences to people who want to get into the export business permanently. What it does, when an application is made, is to look at the bona fides of the applicant and say to him, “ Yes, we will give you a licence immediately, but at the end of a period of time we will review the application, and if we feel that your bona fides have been proved we will then grant you a permanent licence “. I should like to add, for the benefit of the honorable member for Lalor, that in the case of Western Australia a greater number of licences has been granted than in respect of any other State.
On the second question, as to whether or not it is possible for producer or exporting members to get to know the business of other people engaged in the trade, I can only repeat what he has said: It does happen and, of course, is inevitable. But I think we have sufficient men of integrity in this community to put on the board, confident in the knowledge that they will not use the information they gain for their own purposes. The honorable member knows this problem, and I think he went to just as much trouble as I do to see that only men of the highest integrity are appointed to these boards.
The apple and pear industry is, of course, an important export earner for this country. During the current exporting year, I think that 5,500,000 cases with a total value of £8,000,000 will be exported. Therefore, it is an industry that we want to support. But I want to protest strenuously, on behalf of the primary producers of this country, about the statement of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) that this is a socialized industry, and that the board is a socialistic board. I think that the honorable member for Lalor would recoil in horror if he thought that that was true. It must be obvious that the honorable member for Wilmot did not listen to what the honorable member for Lalor said, because the honorable member for Lalor made it clear that this was a supervisory board and could not in any circumstances acquire the produce of the primary producers.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) would enthusiastically demand that the Government should state again and again that the produce of the land belongs to the primary producer.
– Hear, hear!
– In the case of this Apple and Pear Board, the produce remains the property of the primary producer. It so happens that the Apple and Pear Board cannot acquire apples and pears and never has a vested interest in the produce it sells. It is, as the honorable member for Lalor has said, a supervisory board and exercises only a supervisory jurisdiction. So I venture to say that if the quailing, querulous voice of the honorable member for Wilmot unfortunately were heard in Tasmania, most of the apples and pears down there would rot, and most of the apple and pear producers would rise in their wrath against him.
Finally, I want to give an assurance to the honorable member for Moore that the Commonwealth co-operates in promotion. That is a peculiar word. I should prefer to say “ advertising “. The Government does participate in promotion activities. The honorable member will be glad to know - and I mention this because the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) did not mention it - that already the Government is engaging in promotion and advertising activities in Singapore, Germany and Sweden. Therefore, I am hopeful that we shall be able to secure a pretty good export market in those countries.
In conclusion, may I say that when I was attending the Olympic Games in Melbourne I visited the Olympic Village, and one of the things that impressed me was the enthusiasm with which the overseas representatives, particularly those from continental countries, welcomed the fact that they were able to obtain Australian fruit, especially pineapples, apples and pears. Their trainers told me, almost with a single voice, that the great worry of their lives was that, because of the high quality of the fruit and the liking that these people had for it, they experienced considerable difficulty in keeping their weight down, and therefore they found it even harder to beat the Australian athletes than they had expected.
I have mentioned these matters mainly to reply to questions raised by the honorable member for Lalor, whom we all know has the interests of the primary producer very much at heart. At the same time I have taken the opportunity to reply to other questions raised during the debate.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I was not present when certain statements were made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), and perhaps he thought that I did not hear him, but I was in my room listening to the debate over the air.
– Order! Has the honorable member for Wilmot been misrepresented?
– Yes, very much so. The Minister for Primary Industry said that I had stated that the apple and pear industry was a socialized industry. I said nothing of the sort. I said that the board which controlled the industry was a socialized board. All boards are a form of socialism. In this case, a board administers an industry’s publicity, quality and research.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20th March (vide page 48), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
Thai (he bill be now read a second time.
.- This is another small measure which deals with a primary product. It is a bill to amend the Cotton Bounty Act 1951-55. Before I proceed any further, I should like to point out to those who have been throwing bricks at the Australian Labour party for its socialistic tendencies that we appear to have in this measure a substantial instalment of socialism. I say that because this Parliament is being asked to provide a guaranteed price of 14d. per lb. for seed cotton to the Queensland cotton-growers. That means that a guarantee is to be given to the cottongrowers because it is feared that, during the currency of the agreement that is already in operation, it might so happen that the price of cotton will be so low that the taxpayers of Australia should put their hands into their pockets and fork out money to make up the price of cotton to 14d. per lb.
That looks to me like a little piece of socialism. The Government is prepared to collect money from the taxpayers in order to give a socialized price to the Queensland cotton-growers. As one of those who believe in the democratic socialistic policy of the Labour party, I am all for the payment of the cotton bounty.
– Why did not the honorable member agree to it in 1949?
– The loud-mouthed member from Lilley has asked me why 1 was not in favour of a cotton bounty in 1949. The honorable member knows that there is in Australia an instrumentality known as the Tariff Board. That board exists to make inquiries from time to time into requests by industries for assistance on a socialistic basis from the taxpayers.
The cotton-growers of Queensland approached the Commonwealth Government in 1949, several years after World War
We reminded the cotton-growers that a Tariff Board had been set up to consider such requests, and I remind honorable members that it was established by an antiLabour government, lt is, in effect, this Government’s own instrumentality. Its function is to advise governments whether they should, or should not, pay away the taxpayers’ money to assist industries that request aid.
The Labour Government of the day referred the request of the cotton-growers to the Tariff Board, and I shall tell the honorable member for Lilley what it reported. It was not a socialistic Tariff Board, and it was not appointed by a socialistic government. The members of the board at that time were Mr. M. E. McCarthy, who was chairman, Messrs, H. F. Morris, Walter J. Rose and H. E. Guy. None of them had any association with the Australian Labour movement. This is what they reported in their summary of conclusions in 1949 -
Judged on purely economic considerations, the conclusion must be reached that no measures of further assistance by the Commonwealth to the growing of cotton in Queensland, other than that recommended herein, can at present be justified.
That conclusion does not result from a conviction that cotton cannot be efficiently grown in Queensland, but from the conviction that no measures of governmental assistance will bring that result, whilst current conditions in the potential producing areas continue.
The Tariff Board then remarked, in the course of its report, that the essential requirement in Queensland for successful cotton-growing was that there should be rotation of crops with Rhodes grass. It pointed out that there was great need for mechanization, and that cotton should be grown on small areas ranging from 25 acres to 100 acres. There was a need for the Queensland Government and the farmers themselves to ensure that the cotton crops were irrigated. The board recommended that the economics of the ginneries should be studied. At that time, they were situated at Whinstanes, Gladstone and Rockhampton, and I believe that they are still there. I am not one of those who believe in unquestioning acceptance of the recommendations of advisers of governments. Far from it.
– The honorable member accepted the board’s recommendation in this case.
– I am not prepared to tell the honorable member for Capricornia what I did. The government of the day reached a decision, and it was not a bad decision, either. Incidentally, it might raise a question in connexion with the bill before the House. The Tariff Board recommended that the only further assistance that should be given by the Commonwealth Government to the Queensland cotton-growing industry was the maintenance of the existing relevant tariff items and the relief of the Cotton Marketing Board from its liability in respect of the remainder of a loan that had been made by the Commonwealth Bank. That liability was £66.000 which the Chifley Labour Government liquidated, on the recommendation of the Tariff Board, for the benefit of the Queensland Cotton Marketing Board It was a very acceptable measure of socialism for people who had gone into the industry at their own risk. They had borrowed money from the Commonwealth Bank, produced cotton and established ginneries, but, unlike some people in private enterprise who get nothing back when they go broke, they were able to persuade the Commonwealth Government to liquidate their debt to the Commonwealth Bank. I do not disagree with that, because I believe that primary industry should be assisted. That was the situation at that time.
– The industry was given a decent burial.
– One of these days the honorable member for Capricornia will be buried, but no one will miss him. Let us examine what happened next. This Government came into office in 1949 and said that it was going to do great things for the cotton industry, but it was two years before it did anything for the Queensland cottongrowers. Then it suddenly realized or was told that the sum of £66,000 provided to liquidate the Queensland cotton-growers’ debt had proved to be inadequate, notwithstanding that the Labour Government had accepted the recommendation of the expert advisory authority. Then the Government, I think rightly - I do not want to criticize it on this score, because I want to be fair - said, “In view of world marketing conditions, the dependence of Australia on its own products in time of war and the demonstration by the Queensland farmers that they want to continue in the industry, some assistance should be given “. So a measure was introduced into the Parliament to guarantee the payment of a bounty for five years which would bring the price paid to the Queensland cotton-growers up to 14d. per lb., but all the time the Government hoped that the world price of cotton landed in Australia would remain at such a level as to render bounty payments unnecessary.
I daresay that the honorable member for Capricornia, who apparently represents Rockhampton here, went to the Minister, blew in his ear and said, “ Promise them a guaranteed payment of 14d. per lb., Mr. Minister. Probably it will not cost you anything, because the indications are that world cotton prices will remain at a high level “. The honorable member does not deny that. Under those circumstances, the Government agreed to guarantee to the growers for five years a return of 14d. per lb. for Queensland-produced seed cotton at the ginneries.
– Labour was not prepared to do that.
– The Labour party, for which I led in the debate, ardently SUP.ported the proposal.
– Why did you change your mind?
– The honorable member for Lilley can make all the apologies he likes for this Government, but I have never had to make apologies for the Government of which I was a member. He does not deny that it was hoped that there would be no necessity to pay a bounty, and I think that was a very proper hope. Who wants to pay out the money of the taxpayers unnecessarily, even if it is in the form of socialistic assistance?
The. first bounty was payable in 1953. or thereabouts. It might have been a year earlier. In 1953, the payments amounted to only £17,651 - a mere drop in the ocean, i do not think that the Minister who granted the bounty ever thought, even in his wildest imaginings, that substantial payments would be necessary. The granting of the bounty was intended to be an empty gesture, but now the Government is faced with the position that, as the world price of cotton decreases progressively, so the bounty payment that it has to make to the cottongrowers increases. Whereas, in 1949, cotton could be produced in Australia comparatively cheaply, it is necessary now, owing to the failure of this Government to keep down production costs, put value back into the £1 and stabilize our economy, to pay a bounty double that which would have been paid in 1949 if one had been granted then. Let the Government think that one out.
– Why is it necessary?
– Why does not the honorable member listen? In 1953, a bounty of £17,651 was paid. It rose to £25,243 for the 1954 harvest and to £67,284 for the 1955 harvest. The payment for the harvest just completed is expected to be in .the vicinity of £120,000. 1 noticed that the Minister did not give us in his second-reading speech any indication of the present acreage. He did not tell us whether there had been a substantial acreage increase during these years. We know that in 1952 the target for 1957-58 set by the Australian Agricultural Council was 60,000 acres, with a production target of 20.000, bales. Those were very desirable targets. 1 want to know, first, by how much the acreage has increased. If I know that, ! shall be able to assess more accurately whether the increase of expenditure to £120,000 is due to very desirable increases of acreage and production, or whether the main reason is a fall in the price of cotton. Those are very important aspects of this matter. The Minister is always very obliging, and no doubt he will give me the facts.
– The acreage has gone up to four times what it was.
– I know that it has gone up, but it has not nearly reached the target. I wish it had done so. because I wish the industry well.
– Do not you know why the price of cotton fell?
– Of course 1 know.
– You have not said why it fell.
– I will leave that for the honorable member for Lilley to deal with when he makes his speech. He knows everything, and, no doubt, he will be able to give us some very valuable information, or perhaps inflammation would be the better word.
Let me deal with the purposes of the bill. I have engaged in what might be called an historical survey, provoked by interjections which I greatly appreciated. It has been found that the bounty should be paid to the growers before their cotton has been actually sold and the money obtained for it. Naturally, the growers want their money as soon as possible. Therefore, to clear up some doubt whether that can be done, the bill proposes an amendment of the principal act to authorize the board to make interim payments.
Further, doubt has arisen in the minds of the authorities controlling this matter whether it is legal at present to pay a bounty making the growers’ return up to 14d. a lb. without taking into consideration the fact that some of the properties of the board - in other words, the growers, because this is a co-operative industry - are providing a substantial revenue. In the early days of the industry in Queensland, three ginneries were built. It was discovered later that, in view of the decrease of acreage and of the quantity of cotton produced, there were more premises in the possession of the board than were required for its purposes. So, very wisely I think, the board let some of its premises. The seed-crushing machinery in one of the ginneries is being used to do contract work, as i suppose it is, for the Peanut Marketing Board. It is being used to process and extract oil from peanuts. If those revenues were taken into consideration in the assessment of the bounty payment, the result could well be that the growers, instead of receiving a guaranteed price of 14d. a lb. for seed cotton, would receive a lesser amount. So the bill proposes an amendment of the principal act to make sure that it will be legal to take that income into account. I remind some of those people who are pitching round interjections and queries that the revenue which the Queensland Cotton Marketing Board is receiving from the rental of properties is augmented by another sideline in the extraction and processing of oil from peanuts. In the wheat and dairying industries this, technically speaking, would be classed as sideline income in the assessment of costs, and the guaranteed price would be adjusted accordingly. In those industries, the sideline income would be derived from propertyownership to which the Commonwealth and State Governments had made no contribution. In the cotton-growing industry, however, this sideline income of the Queensland Cotton Marketing Board is not taken into account notwithstanding the fact thai it is derived from ownership of property to which the Commonwealth Government made a contribution of £66,000 in 1949.
In those circumstances, it might be questionable whether the present proposed procedure is justifiable; but, as the industry is struggling, I and my party are willing to let that point pass because, after all, the board might be so encouraged to engage in further sideline activities. I do not know, but, eventually, it might be encouraged, for instance, to bottle peanut butter for the peanut board, lt now extracts oil from peanuts, and it might even let its rentals go and embark on all sorts of sidelines. It might even manufacture oil cake for the dairying industry, because, from its cotton seed oil it can make available to the industry a most valuable high-protein stock food. Whether the Queensland Cotton Marketing Board makes oil cake now, I do not. know. Possibly, it does not. I presume that it crushes the seed and sells the oil and meal to other manufacturers who make up poultry nuts and poultry meal. If the board can enter profitably into the processing of those products, good luck to it. Whether a future government will come down on the board and re-assess the bounty payments. I do not know. At all events, the Labour party supports the proposal contained in the bill and hopes that it will give a further meed of assistance and encourage the industry not only to increase its production, but also to improve its efficiency and thus become a greater asset to the people of Australia than it has been hitherto.
– The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) engaged in something in the nature of a- historical survey of the cotton industry when dealing with this bill, but I want to point out that his survey was not completely correct. This bill provides further evidence of the fact that this Government is preparedto do all it possibly can to assist, develop, stabilize and increase the production of the cotton industry.
The honorable member for Lalor pointed out that in 1949, when the Government in which he was a Minister was in power, the Tariff Board made an inquiry into the cotton industry and made certain recommendations as the result of an application by the industry for a bounty of 9½d. a lb. He pointed out, quite corectly, that the board’s report was unfavorable to the industry’s application and simply recommended that an amount of £68,000 owing by the Queensland Cotton Marketing Board to the Commonwealth Bank be waived. The honorable member seemed to suggest that the recommendation of the board justified the refusal of the then government to assist this industry, but I point out to honorable members generally that when this Government came into power late in 1949, in spite of the recommendation of the Tariff Board, it agreed to grant the growers’ request for a bounty of 9½d. a lb. because it considered that the board was not required to determine policy. Under this Government’s policy, the board was simply required to make a factual survey of the industry and to give the Government the benefit of that survey. It then became the function of this Government, as it should be the duty of any government, to determine policy. The difference between the previous government’s policy and that of this Government in matters of this sort is that this Government saw fit to disregard the report of the Tariff Board and, purely as a matter of policy, to grant 9½d. per lb. bounty for the purpose of stabilizing the industry.
The honorable member for Lalor also said, if I remember correctly, that it took this Government a couple of years to do that. My distinct recollection, which I think will be shared by the honorable members for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) and Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), and the former honorable member for Wide Bay, Mr. Corser, is that early in 1950 those honorable members whom I have just mentioned, inconjunctionwithmyself,waitedonthe then Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) and discussed with him the granting of this bounty; and it was then decided, early in 1950, that a bounty would be granted. It will be seen, therefore, that the implementation of this policy, which has been pursued ever since, was one of the early acts of the present Government and that it did not wait for a couple of years before it put that policy into effect.
Generally speaking, the object of that policy was to give stability to the industry so that there would be increased production. The honorable member for Lalor has made the amazing statement that such action constitutes some form of socialism. That is a weird definition of socialism. Possibly, the intention behind his claim is to persuade people generally to believe that the socialism about which the Labour party is talking now is a brand of which the people need not be afraid; but that is not the particular form of socialism of which we had some experience when honorable members opposite were in power. Actually, the object of the Government in providing this assistance is simply to endeavour to establish a set of circumstances under which the industry can prosper, go ahead to further production and produce wealth in this country which will ultimately far more than repay the small amount of subsidy necessary for the initial development of the industry.
It is conceded that this objective has not yet been fully realized, but it cannot be contended that the fact that there has not been the production anticipated when the bounty was first discussed is due to any fault in the Government’s policy, or to any defect in the bounty which has been paid or to any fault on the part of the growers. Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been a series of poor seasons. There have been floods, or, alternatively, droughts, with the result that time and again there have been partial crop failures in the areas in which most of the cotton is produced; and those areas happen largely to be within my electorate. Because of that, the anticipated development has not as yet come about. Unfortunately again, even in this season which, is now developing, prospects are not good. When travelling through my electorate and. the cotton-growing areas recently, I saw many indications that a bumper crop cannot be expected this year; in fact, the crop will probably not be any larger than that harvested last year. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the anticipated increased production has not yet been fully realized, I point out that there has been very considerable development in the industry since we introduced this bounty in 1949. That is evidenced by the fact that in 1949 there were only 263 growers, but last year the number had grown to 849. Further evidence is that the acreage under cotton rose from 2,272 in 1949 to 15,269 in 1955, the last year for which records are available. So it will be seen that, as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr; Pearce) said by interjection when the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was speaking, the acreage under cultivation now has increased considerably. It is at least six times the acreage that was under crop in 1949. In spite of this lack of marked improvement the Government still has faith in the capacity of the industry to contribute in no small measure to the economy of Australia. It is the type of industry which will blend well with other primary industries in certain areas of Australia, particularly, of course, Queensland, in that it can be carried out in rotation with other industries such as dairying and grain-growing, and so assist in improving the general economy of those areas, where the soil and the climate are suitable for this diversified type of agriculture. So the Government, having faith in the industry’s capacity, particularly in view of the fact that cotton is about the only primary product for which there is, as yet, an unlimited market in Australia so that the industry is not forced to rely on exports, intends to continue the assistance it has given.
This bill may be regarded as only one more step forward in the assistance already granted, and it does not by any means go all the way to meet the requests that have been recently made to the Minister by the Cotton Marketing Board and the growers themselves. It is, in effect, an interim measure designed to deal with certain defects in the Cotton Bounty Act which have become evident in the last twelve to eighteen months. For instance, the act as it stands provides for the bounty to be paid on cotton, produced in Australia which has been sold for use in Australia. In previous years, until this last season, the board, which was responsible for taking over the cotton from growers, selling it and paying the growers, has been able to finance each crop without any particular difficulty by obtaining advances from the Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank.
These returns from the sale of the crop, and in recent years the yield from the amount of bounty paid after the crop had been sold, were such that the board was able to finalize each year’s business prior to the commencement of the next season, and so was able to go forward with sufficient money available to it to make a reasonable interim advance to the growers of, generally, lOd. per lb. which was payable shortly after the cotton was delivered to the ginneries. That amount of lOd. per lb. was essential to enable the grower to meet his harvesting costs and provide him with the necessary finance to continue until the final payment became due. But last year, as a result of a combination of circumstances which gave rise to the production of a fairly large quantity of lower grade cotton, the board found itself in the position that the previous year’s negotiations with the banks had not been completed, and therefore the money available to it to finance the harvesting of the coming crop was limited, with the result that an advance payment of only 7d. per lb. was payable. The Government was asked to give some financial assistance so that the growers could be paid an interim price high enough to enable them to carry on.
This state of affairs developed quickly, and took some time to rectify, because it was found that, as the act was worded there was no actual authority for that advance payment to be made. Nevertheless, the Minister for Primary Industry, acting in conjunction with the Treasury, was able to make advances to the board which allowed another 3d. per lb. to be paid, and so the growers received the amount of lOd. per lb. necessary to enable them to carry on. But that was something of the nature of a stopgap method. As it is evident that there is a likelihood that the same problem will arise again, action has been taken in this bill to amend the wording of the act so that finance will be available to the board either from an advance payment of bounty or from its actual sales, which will enable the board to make an interim payment to growers, immediately after delivery, sufficient to enable harvesting and all other costs to be met. This action will be appreciated very much by the industry whose main worry for this current season has been whether, following last year’s experience, the growers will be able to get sufficient finance out of their interim advance to enable them to pay their way. This proposal will enable the provision of adequate finance.
Opportunity has also been taken by the Minister to deal with another request by the growers that any funds available to the Cotton Marketing Board as a result of operations outside the actual processing of cotton will be able to be paid to the growers as an interim guaranteed return of 14d. per lb. for seed cotton. The sidelines will go to the producer, and will not be taken into account in determining the subsidy payable. This will mean that, as a result of any such operations outside the processing of cotton, growers will receive an increased price for their cotton, because the practice of the board in making such payments from receipts from other sources is to make them on the basis of cotton supplied.
Perhaps I should mention here, as one who is in close touch with cotton-growers, that there are other problems facing the industry with which this bill does not deal. For instance, the industry has asked that the present agreement, which expires in 1958, be continued for another five years. The reason for that request is the obvious one that the more stability a young and growing industry can be assured of the better will be its chances of building up and expending the capital necessary to function efficiently and well. So the industry has asked that an early announcement be made of an extension of the agreement for five years from the time of its termination under the act. I am not in a position to say whether that request will be granted. That is a matter for the Minister, but I know he is investigating the possibility and I feel that I can say with confidence that, judging from the record of the Government in respect of assistance to the industry so far, it can be confidently expected that the Minister will give the sympathetic consideration to the proposal that I think it merits.
The board and the industry point out that, in order to achieve the development of production at which every one is aiming, it is necessary to expend further capital sums on such things, as far as the board is concerned, as more harvesting machines and in bringing its present ginneries up to date. Considerable trouble has been experienced in recent years following the introduction of mechanical harvesting, in that the mechanically-harvested cotton delivered to ginneries is not in such clean condition as hand-picked cotton and, consequently, the grade of cotton, with the ginneries in their present condition, is not as high as it would be if further money were expended in order to bring the ginneries up to the desired modern standard. Some of the equipment is nearly 35 years old. Naturally, the Cotton Marketing Board, before it can embark on considerable expenditure on the provision of new equipment, must know that over a reasonable period of years ahead there will be a continuation of the support that this Government has given to the industry in the past and which, 1 say, it can be expected to continue to give. In addition, if the industry is to expand, new growers must enter it, or, alternatively, the present growers must expand their holdings. That would mean the provision of mechanical equipment on the farms because the cot on industry, in common with many other primary industries, is turning more and more towards mechanization. This, in turn, would mean the expenditure of a considerable capital sum on each farm. The farmer cannot be expected to undertake this unless he knows that he has security for some years ahead. Therefore, I feel sure that the Minister will give very serious consideration to this proposal - and to the fact that the industry needs assistance - in discussions which are still continuing with the spinners over the sale of outstanding bales from last year’s crop, and also over the coming crop. I know that already growers’ representatives have conferred with departmental officials in order to obtain assistance in their discussions with the spinners. Those discussions have not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion but I feel sure that the Minister will continue his policy of assisting the growers in their representations to the spinners so that ultimately a condition of affairs such as was reached in the tobacco industry will be reached in the cotton industry also. The Government told ihe industry that it expected its representatives to negotiate with the manufacturers’ representatives and the purchasers, but that if their discussions with the spinners failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion they would be assisted by the Government. Therefore, I welcome this bill. It is a step towards the accomplishment of the Government’s task of assisting Australia’s development and stabilizing the cotton industry. I congratulate the Minister upon having met, in this regard, the requirements of the industry as they were put to him by the growers and the Cotton Marketing Board.
.- Not very much need be said in addition to what the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has put to the House, but I do want to support the bill and the action of this Government over the years in giving a necessary guarantee to an industry that is so worthy of assistance. Looking back over my years of advocacy on behalf of the industry I recall that, when I was on the Opposition side, my colleagues and I fought for a guarantee of 9d. per lb. At that time imported raw cotton was costing 30d. per lb. The then Government, in which the present honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, accepted the Tariff Board’s recommendation and offered no guarantee so far as costs were concerned. It is true, as the honorable member for Lalor has said, that the then Government followed the board’s recommendation. I have a great admiration for the board’s work but I cannot, even now, concede that the board was right on that occasion. It recommended that the £68,000 owing by the industry on plant and machinery should be waived but that nothing more should be done.
When we went over to the treasury bench the industry was, to all intents and purposes, dead. Only a few hundred bales were produced in that year, and, within the first twelve months of coming to office, we honoured our election promise to give a guarantee of 9d. per lb. I could never understand why the Tariff Board had not the vision to recognize the worth of the cotton industry.
The Postmaster-General’s reference to an ample market is borne out by the import figures. I looked them up again to-night and found that raw cotton imports for the seven months to the end of January, 1957, indicate an annual cost of about £7,000,000. Cotton yarn imports are costing £2,600,000 a year and piece goods, cotton and linen, about £30,000,000 a year. Surely no one would object to a subsidy that would give a guarantee somewhere near the cost of production. It would widen the scope of this industry and, in turn, boost the manufacture of piece goods and textiles in Australia.
I cannot understand the suggestion of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) that this is socialist legislation. It is merely a matter of paying a subsidy, as is done in the dairying industry. Honorable members should not forget that the consumers too, benefit because they are able to buy their goods more cheaply. If the Labour government had given the subsidy down through the years Australia would have been saved millions of dollars. Cotton could have been grown at 9d. per lb. and we would not have had to pay 30d. per lb. for the imported product. I could never see any wisdom in the action of the Labour government, or in the recommendation of the Tariff Board.
– What is the cotton like in quality?
– It is first class. The guarantee has brought confidence to the industry and encouraged farmers to import the mechanized equipment that is needed if costs are to be kept down. Most of our cotton picking is now done mechanically. As is the case in some other primary industries, it is necessary to harvest within a few weeks of maturity, or the whole crop will be lost. Even more important, it must be harvested when the weather is favorable. Heavy rain can destroy a crop. The Government’s action in continuing the guarantee of 14d. per lb., even at a cost to this country of some thousands of pounds a year, will mean an ultimate monetary saving and greater employment because it will create confidence and encourage an extension of manufacturing. I support the Postmaster-General in his suggestion that the Minister should look forward and give sympathetic consideration to the industry’s desire for a guarantee period of a further five years after 1958. An early announcement on that matter would encourage the industry to import the machinery that it needs if it is to be up to date. The industry has had a couple of bad seasons and it is to be hoped that the tide will now turn and we shall have good crops so that the industry may prove its worth. I press for an early announcement by the Government that the guarantee for this very worthwhile industry will be continued.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pearce) adjourned.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
I take this opportunity to try to clear up a matter which was raised by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) in the House on the night of 20th March. In order to explain the matter in issue, it is necessary for me to quote precisely what the honorable gentleman said at that time. He is reported in “ Hansard “ as having expressed some pleasure that I was in the chamber because -
I want to direct his attention-
That is my attention - to a very snide trick that is being employed, in Western Australia at least, to deprive unemployed workers of social services benefits and at the same time reduce the number in receipt of such benefits. The Commonwealth does not worry about those who have just registered for employment, until the seven-day waiting period is almost up, and it then gives them one or two days’ work. This means that they have to wait another seven days in order to qualify for social services benefits. This happens repeatedly, and as a result, some unemployed workers and their families never receive unemployment benefits, but are forced to exist on the meagre amount that they are able to earn for one or two days’ work in every six or seven days. The same snide trick- that is the phrase that he employed before - is used against some of those who have been in receipt of unemployment benefit. This thimble-and-pea trick has the advantage for the Commonwealth that it reduces the number in receipt of unemployment benefit and makes the figures look better for the Minister, who is always trying to make them look better by saying in this chamber, as though something remarkable has been achieved, that there are fewer persons receiving unemployment benefit this week or this month than received it last week or last month, as he is enabled to do by the manipulation of the figures in the way I have described.
That passage contains some very serious charges and I accept them seriously. They are serious in that they reflect upon myself as Minister. That may be relatively unimportant. But what to me is very much more important is that they reflect on the Government and they reflect, in particular, upon respected, conscientious officers of the Department of Labour and National Service who are attending to these matters in the State of Western Australia. If the statements about the practice followed in relation to the payments of social services benefits to those unemployed were proved, they would be serious enough. But most honorable members who have followed these matters at all in this House will be astonished to learn that the honorable member for Stirling should be so far out in his knowledge of the practice which is adopted in these matters. As is clearly prescribed, the fact that a man receives some temporary employment for one or two days in a particular week does not disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefit in subsequent weeks.
– It does.
– It does not disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefit in subsequent weeks and it does not result in his name being taken off the list of those registered as unemployed.
– If he earns over the permissible income he loses the unemployment benefit. The Minister knows that.
– The honorable member for Stirling seems to have acquired the practice of distortion and misrepresentation of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who quite obviously is trying to confuse the issue. It is a fact that if in a particular week a person earns above the permissible amount he does not receive unemployment benefit in that week.
– Is that not what I said?
– No, and it is not what the honorable member for Stirling said. He said that the man was then taken off unemployment benefit and that in this way, by giving him a couple of days’ work, we were able to manipulate the figures. The facts are that even if in that particular week enough has been earned to make the person concerned ineligible for the unemployment benefit for that week, he has to go on earning above the permissible amount for four weeks before he is removed from the list of those on unemployment benefit. So there can be no question of manipulation or distortion of figures by a conscientious officer trying to find some casual work for a particular unemployed person, knowing, as he does, that unless the person is able to follow up that work with work in the subsequent week he remains on the unemployment benefit list. He continues to receive, without any further qualifying period, the unemployment benefit which would have been payable to him had he not been earning the casual amount on which he had been placed.
So we find that the honorable member for Stirling has, first of all, been completely ignorant of the position in relation to the payment of unemployment benefits. Secondly, in his ignorance and with malice, the honorable member made a statement which was designed to damage the reputation of a decent, conscientious member of the Commonwealth Public Service. I would be surprised if there was any other member from Western Australia who knows the regional director who would join in this criticism. If ever there was a man who was sympathetically disposed to those seeking employment and who would do his utmost to help them, it is Mr. Baden White, the regional director in our office in Perth. Those who are associated with him are of like mind and, I believe, of like character.
So we have, first of all, an unwarranted attack on the man himself. There is no evidence whatever, either in what has been stated in this House or from my own inquiries, that anything of an irregular character has occurred. Secondly, there is a complete misrepresentation and distortion of the true picture in respect of entitlement to unemployment benefits. One of the somewhat ridiculous aspects of this matter is a rather crude attempt to produce some propaganda in support of the member for Stirling. In the “ West Australian “ newspaper, on Friday, 22nd March, there was a report of this matter in the House and a reference to the fact that I ‘was going to deal with it after I had made suitable inquiries. I subsequently received a typewritten letter, not signed, but with a whole lot of signatures and addresses on quite unrelated paper attached to it, Curiously enough, the date on this unsigned letter is the same date on which this report appeared in the “ West Australian “. Id this letter it was stated -
We the undersigned (on attached page)–
Actually, there are three attached pages - unemployed of Fremantle wish to draw your attention to the fact that the statements made by Mr. Webb M.H.R., Stirling in the House of Representatives are substantially true.
When an unemployed person is eligible for Social Services benefit and then is fortunate to secure a day or two work he then is deprived of all Social Services benefit.
This is naturally reflected in the returns of persons unemployed and does give a false picture of the unemployment position in West Australia.
We also deplore the statement by the Minister for Labour that his chief concern was the allegations against members of the public service and not expressions of concern regarding the welfare of the unemployed struggling to exist here in West Australia.
– A very good letter.
– It is a very good letter concocted by an official in the Trades: Hall, Perth, lt was conveniently typed on the same day as this press report appeared. I would be prepared to assert, without claiming the full knowledge of the facts, that these unrelated pages with no reference to anything that appears on the front page-
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has said, I did direct attention to this matter; in fact, I did it in front of him when he was in the House the other night. I told him exactly what was happening in Perth in regard to the unemployment situation. The information that I conveyed to the House was given to me by a Government official who was in a position to know what happened in January of this year. There is no doubt that what I conveyed to the House did happen at that time. I do not know whether the practice still persists, but I hope that it’ does not. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that he took the matter seriously, because it is, indeed, a serious matter. I refer to the letter that the Minister seems to think was prepared as a result of some action on my part. It is true that I have received a copy of the letter dated 22nd March, which was a couple of days after 1 had raised the matter in the House. The letter 1 received from members of the Fremantle Unemployed Committee reads as follows: -
We, the undersigned unemployed of Fremantle wish to substantiate your statements made in the House of Representatives recently. It is quite true that unemployed persons are deprived of benefits if they secure casual work.
We have sent a letter of protest to the Minister for Labour and herewith enclose copy of same. Fifty-one signatures were attached to that letter.
The letter to me, which i have just read, was signed by D. Roberts and A. McGhie, whom J do not know. Attached to that letter was a copy of a letter of the same date that had been addressed to the Minister.
It reads -
We, the undersigned (on attached page) unemployed of Fremantle wish to draw your attention to the fact that the statements made by Mr. Webb, M.H.R., Stirling, in the House of Representatives, were substantially true.
When an unemployed person is eligible for Social Services benefit and then is fortunate to secure a day or two work he then is deprived of all Social Services benefit. Thisis naturally reflected in the returns of persons unemployed and does give a false picture of the unemployment position in West Australia.
– Produce one case of that.
– The concluding paragraph reads -
We also deplore the statement by the Minister for Labour that his chief concern was the allegation against members of the public service and not expressions of concern regarding the welfare of the unemployed struggling to exist here in West Australia.
That copy of the letter that was received by the Minister supports substantially the point thatI made in debate the other night. Fancy the Minister having the colossal hide to stand up and complain about distortion when he, during the course of the debate in this chamber the other night, distorted beyond all imagination what the Australian Labour party stands for. Fancy his having the cheek to talk about distortion! I suggest to the Minister that he do something about the unemployment situation instead of merely producing figures to the House to show that about 100 fewer men are now in receipt of unemployment benefit, as though something remarkable had been achieved. The fact is that, at the present time, over 5,000 unemployed persons are registered in Perth. Many more unemployed persons have not registered, including many men who are doing a few days casual work here and there - men on part-time work. Why does not the Mnister do something about the matter, instead of trying to keep these men on the lowest possible standard of living?
On two occasions, the Premier of Western Australia has written to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) asking him to lift credit restrictions, because they are affecting the employment position in that State. The Premier also asked the right honorable gentleman to assist Western Australia to commence additional public works in order to relieve unemployment. The Prime Minister did not even have the decency to reply to the Premier’s letters.
I know that it is not very pleasing to honorable members opposite, particularly those from Western Australia, for this matter to be brought up in the House, because some of the Western Australian representatives have been taken to task for not pulling their weight in connexion with the unemployment situation. We know, too, that when the Premier of Western Australia sought special financial assistance to the extent of £4,000,000, certain members of this House from Western Australia did their best to prevent that assistance from being given. The reason they did not want that assistance to be provided is that a Labour government is in office in Western Australia. Had a Liberal government been in office in that State, they would have supported the request. Ultimately, financial assistance to the extent of £2,000,000 was provided, which was sufficient only to keep certain public works going and so prevent the unemployment situation from worsening. However, the position is now getting worse. As the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) mentioned earlier to-day, since the last unemployment figures were quoted by the Minister, further unemployment has occurred in Western Australia. It is about time that this Government did something about the matter. “ The West Australian newspaper has followed the matter very closely, and it has directed attention particularly to the unemployment situation in certain towns. That newspaper has pointed out that it is not practicable to have one barometer to indicate the position in all States, and that Western Australia, because of its lack of secondary industries, is suffering more as a result of the restriction of credit than some of the other States.
Good luck to the Minister if he has stopped the practice complained of in the letters that I have read. I am pleased that he is taking this matter seriously, and I hope that he will follow developments closely in order to see that the practice does not recur.
.- Some of us are well aware of what certain honorable members from Western Australia are trying to do in the federal sphere. The main concern in Western Australia was not whether the unemployed persons in Fremantle or Perth or anywhere else were getting enough to live on, or too much to live on, but about the accusation that a snide trick had been played by the Commonwealth Employment Service. I take this opportunity to inform the House that when I was in Perth over last week-end, an officer whose name was mentioned by the Minister, expressed great concern to me that the integrity of the Commonwealth Employment Service had been doubted in connexion with this matter. Because of the general nature of the remarks made they could have applied to friends of mine and of other Western Australian members, including the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), who are employed in various employment offices in both the metropolitan area and the country districts of Western Australia.
If the honorable member for Stirling is aware of any cases that have been dealt with on a basis other than that outlined by the Minister for Labour and National Service, he should bring them to the notice of the Director of Social Services in Perth for review, and adjustment if necessary. But the fact remains that employees of the Commonwealth Employment Service who, I honestly believe, have been doing their utmost to relieve the situation of the unemployed men who are so vitally affected, have been maligned in this House. The letter mentioned by the honorable member for Stirling at least localizes the trouble to some degree. It bears the signatures and addresses of 51 people, and it should be quite easy for the Department of Social Services to make a thorough check, not on the men whose names are appended to the letter, but on the staff of the various employment offices in Western Australia who have handled the cases of those men, and to ascertain whether the Department of Labour and National Service arranged things, as it has been accused of doing, waited for a period, and then gave the men who were unemployed a couple of days’ work so that they would be ineligible for unemployment benefit. The matter must be clarified for the sake of the employees of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Western Australia. In fairness to them, the matter should be carefully investigated now that the trouble has been found to be confined, as I imagine it has been, to the Fremantle office of the Commonwealth Employment Service.
The honorable member for Stirling stated that the Western Australian Government sought a special grant of some £4,000,000 at the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council for the relief of unemployment. The council agreed to a special grant of £2,000,000.
– Apparently, it was not enough.
– At the time it was made, the press claimed that it would do much to ease the position in Western Australia, but a few months later we were told that it had made no difference. I do not know which statement presents the truth. Western Australian members of this Parliament have at all times been highly conscious of the position in Western Australia. The “ West Australian “, in a series of leading articles, has suggested what should be done to improve the position in that State. It is strange that one of the things pressed for by that newspaper and, I know, by the honorable member for Stirling, is the establishment of a naval base at Cockburn Sound, in the hope that the work necessary for the establishment of such a base would relieve the existing unemployment and any economic recession that might occur or that is already occurring. It is interesting to note the opinion of Admiral Sir John Collins, who, I suppose, is one of the greatest naval experts that Australia has produced. At a meeting that I attended, he said that it was foolish to think of establishing a naval base a* Cockburn Sound, which could have value only as a shipping assembly point in time of war. He said that it had no usefulness as a naval base, and that it should not be considered for this purpose when a harbour such as that at Albany was available if it were decided to establish a naval base in Western Australia in accordance with overall strategy. I would never set myself up as a greater authority on naval matters than a top naval expert like Admiral Sir John Collins, although the leader writer of the “ West Australian “ apparently has set himself up as superior to Sir John.
I am sure that all honorable members will recognize, as this session progresses, that if Western Australian members of this House stand together in anything in their participation in the business of this House, they do so in support of the interests oi” their own State. However, in doing that Western Australian members also have a duty to safeguard officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Western Australia, and to use their influence on the Government, regardless of its political colour, on behalf of men who, in the main, are of high integrity.
– Why do Government supporters from Western Australia not do something about the unemployment in that State?
– Strangely enough, something is being done about it! Yester- I quoted from a journal published in Western Australia evidence that the employment position is improving. The worst thing that we can do is to spread about the countryside rumours that things are going badly and will become much worse, and thereby make people fear for the future so much that they will not embark on anything. If members from Western Australia believe in the future of Australia, and in the future of their own State, they can do much greater service for the unemployed than they would do by attempting to convince the people that unemployment is severe and will get worse, as some Opposition members can justly be accused of doing.
.- I desire to bring to the notice of the House the shocking conditions obtaining in the mail branch at the General Post Office, in Sydney. The president and secretary of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia, to which the employees in the mail branch belong, have sought the aid of Opposition members in an effort to impress the Government, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department with the frightfulness of the conditions of employment in the Sydney mail branch. They complain of insufficient space, lack of ventilation, poor lighting, and a shortage of staff. A considerable proportion of the staff is very inexperienced. This is due to no fault of the employees; there is another reason for it. The officials of the union have informed Opposition members that the position is going from bad to worse, and I think that, in some instances, this is admitted by the department. The union has complained about the position for a long time, and it claims that its protests appear to have been of no avail. The powers that be evidently have a genius for making excuses, and are ready with an excuse every time.
The mail branch has been housed in its present building for the last 27 years. The building was not originally constructed for use by the mail branch, which was formerly housed at Railway-square, in Sydney, in a building that now accommodates the Chief Parcels Office. The mail branch in Sydney handles more mail than does any other mail branch in Australia. As an overseas mail terminal, it handles a great deal of mail matter that goes to the mail branches in the other capital cities. Until recently, there were fewer than 1,000 employees in the Sydney mail branch. There are now more than 2,000, and at Christmas time more than 3,000 workers will be crammed into this unsuitable building. Experts say that, with so many employees working in the building, the average air space for each is only one-third of the amount required by health regulations. There is a very serious dust problem also, largely because the building was not constructed for the purpose for which it is now being used and no provision has been made for proper methods of removing dust. Honorable members may not know that the abrasion of mail in bags in transit causes a lot of dust to collect, and the dust clouds that arise when bags of mail are emptied constitute a serious health hazard. These conditions would not be tolerated in private establishments, but they are permitted in the Sydney mail branch because government institutions, both Commonwealth and State, are not subject to the health and industrial regulations that apply to other establishments.
I should like to discuss the staff position in more detail. The Superintendent of Mails in Sydney said, only recently, that 90 per cent, of the staff had been employed for more than one year, 80 per cent, for more than two years, and 50 per cent, for more than five years. These figures indicate that the labour turn-over of the total staff is at least 50 per cent, every five years, and that if 1,000 new employees began duty on 1st January, very many of them would have left by the end of the year. The heavy labour turn-over entails heavy expenditure on a large permanent training staff of 200 employees in the training school in order to train replacements to maintain the required staff strength of 2,000. There are cogent reasons for the heavy staff turnover. The union says that the main two reasons are that the employees are poorly paid and that their working conditions are very bad.
– How long has the Minister known about the situation?
– Ever since he has been a Minister; and his predecessor knew about it, too, because it is a long-standing complaint. As we know, the wage paid to postal employees is very low. Their basic wage has been frozen by the Commonwealth Government and, because of that, State employees in Tasmania are receiving £1 8s. 6d. more than is being paid to postal employees engaged in the Mail Branch. That is why this tremendous turnover of labour prevails. It is having the effect that there are serious delays to mails. Firstclass mail matter has been delayed, but there has been a very extensive delay in regard to second-class mail matter. We have evidence that it has been laid aside for periods up to two weeks because there is not sufficient staff to handle it. We have evidence that even express air mail is being delayed. Also, if mail going to Sydney containing mail orders, were attended to expeditiously, the orders could be returned on the same ship, but because of the serious delay in the Sydney Mail Branch which prevents this correspondence from getting to its destination on time, the return orders miss the ship. .
I have a letter from the secretary of the union, and I should like to read portions of it as this is a very serious matter. He writes -
During the Xmas Tush two of our members dropped dead in the overcrowded Mail Branch at the G.P.O., which was never designed to accommodate 3,000 men in the one department. Further, no Coroner’s Inquest was held concerning these deaths, but instead the C.M.O. issued a certificate of death for both men, to the effect that death was due to Coronary Occlusion. This was rather odd as the same C.M.O. had recently passed one man physically fit for permanency.
The public and the business community - particularly the little men - are suffering from this bedlam state of affairs in the Mail Branch.
Second-class mail matter, for lack of staff and handling space, is being put aside for up to a fortnight before it is sorted for delivery. This second-class mail matter, in addition to overseas periodicals, includes business orders from the islands around Australia. Island steamers are usually in port long enough to take back replies to these orders, but the fortnight lag in delivery means that boat connexions are missed and business transactions of island traders may be held up for months.
There should be a full-scale inquiry into the handling of mail in Sydney. The inside story of muddling, forced on the Postal Department by a miserable, penny-pinching Federal Government, would shock the public.
Not only the Postal Workers’ Union, but departmental heads, are fearful of a breakdown of mail handling facilities, unless something is done about the slum conditions at the General Post Office pending the construction of a new Mail Branch building, instead of providing makeshift, temporary subsidiary mail branches like the one at Hiles-street, Alexandria, for the handling of Inter-State and Overseas Mail.
To sum up, something must be done about this urgent problem.
Regarding the proposed new building, I brought that matter to the Minister’s notice a considerable time ago. It had been planned as far back as 1951, but there does not seem to be any move in the matter. Every time any inquiry is made the answer is that it is expected a commencement will be made in eighteen months’ time. That is the position. It is expected that this very urgent building, which will take many years to build and will cost from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 will not be commenced for another eighteen months. The union officials, of course, are very concerned about what is going to transpire between now and the lime this necessary building is completed.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) has referred to conditions in the Sydney Mail Branch. During his remarks he stated that the conditions there were going from bad to worse, and he submitted the matter, I contend, in somewhat extravagant language. I am quite prepared to admit that 1 do not consider conditions in the Mail Branch as ideal. However, conditions have not fallen to the degree to which the honorable member suggested. He referred, for instance, to the fact that there is a tremendous labour turnover, and he said that indicates the situation which prevails in the Mail Branch and has developed as a result of these unfortunate conditions. He quoted a statement by the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Sydney recently to the effect that the wastage among the trained mail staff is not high, that 90 per cent, of the present staff have been employed for more than a year, 80 per cent, for more than two years, and 50 per cent, for more than five years. That, he said, indicates a tremendous labour turnover. I do not agree with that. I say that in a job like this, in which there is normally a fairly high turnover as a result of men going to other avenues of employment, if 50 per cent, have been employed for more than five years it cannot be contended that there is a very high labour turnover. That is a position which would compare favorably with many businesses throughout Australia.
The honorable member went on to say that it is to be deduced from these figures that if there were 1,000 men employed in the branch at the beginning of this year there will be only 500 employed there at the end of the year. I point out that if 90 per cent, of the present staff have been employed for more than a year, obviously there would be at least 900 of the 1,000 employed at the end of the year. So, the terms in which he has put this matter to the House are fallacious. He also referred to the training that is carried on in the branch. There is, and has been, right throughout the history of the department, a big turnover of those who have been trained for various positions in the Postal Department. That has arisen from the fact that if a man has been trained for a while and has developed a certain degree of com petency in a particular task he frequently goes to some other industry and is lost to the department.
The honorable member also stated that this turnover was due to the present wage scales arising from the fact that the basic wage has been frozen by the Commonwealth Government. May I point out, as I have done previously in this House, that the matter of the determination of wage scales in the Postal Department, as indeed in the whole of the Public Service, is one for determination under the arbitration system. At present there is an application by the Australian Council of Trades Unions to the Arbitration and Conciliation Commission for an increase in the basic wage. If wage conditions in this particular industry are as claimed by the honorable member for Banks, then the arbitration system will take account of that fact and will make an adjustment; but the making of that adjustment is not in the hands of the department or of the Public Service.
– The Minister could help them.
– I have helped them to get before the Arbitrator on two occasions, and the Arbitrator admitted that. The honorable member also referred to delays in the handling of mail. He said that he has evidence that mail, particularly second class matter, has been held up for a fortnight. I consider that the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Sydney is a far better authority on such matters than is either the honorable member for Banks or those who submitted these facts to him. The director’ states that second class mail matter has not been put aside for periods up to a fortnight and that any statement to the contrary is without foundation. The only occasion when mail matter is held up for about 48 hours is when there are simultaneous arrivals of heavy overseas mails at the mail branch. I stated at the commencement of these remarks that I did not consider the conditions ideal. In actual fact, since I have been in this office, consideration of the development of the proposed new mail building at Redfern has been going ahead. As the honorable member for Banks probably knows, I have invited the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) to accompany me on Monday next when I go out to have a look at the position, because 1 am preparing a submission to Cabinet. The determination as to when a start will be made with the newbuilding, and how it will progress, is a matter for Cabinet and as I have not yet made my submission I am not in a position to say when the building will start. When completed it is planned to handle the anticipated mail traffic of Sydney for at least the next twenty years. On the site which was acquired in 1951, there will be provision also, if it is approved, for a transport building of about 1,400 square feet, and at the same time there is room for further expansion on the area to deal with any further developments after twenty years.
This proposal has to be further considered. After it has been approved by Cabinet it will have to go to the Public Works Committee. Consequently, it will be some considerable time before a building of this size will be in operation. However, it is not intended to make no other provision for dealing with the present situation. A building has been acquired in Hiles-street Alexandria, and it is the intention to transfer the interstate and overseas mail sections of the present mail building to that building, and also to use the present training school accommodation for the treatment of live traffic during periods of heavy rush traffic. So it will be seen that efforts are being made to get on with the task of providing further accommodation for the mail branch. I can assure the honorable mem ber that the matter has been receiving my attention and will continue to do so.
I have one further comment to make: I was rather sorry that the honorable member for Banks brought up the subject of the unfortunate deaths which occurred at Christmas time. From the way he introduced it - by reading from a letter - I think possibly he would rather not have introduced this unnecessary matter into the debate at all, because there is nothing to be gained by harrowing the feelings of relatives. There has been a coroner’s report on this matter, which states that the deaths were not caused or aggravated in any way by any of the conditions prevailing in the work in the department. Therefore I suggest that the matter should not have been introduced into this debate in an attempt to build up a case which already has considerable merit and which has been given attention.
.- For some time now the Queensland central executive of the Labour party has been endeavouring to persuade the Queensland Government that it should introduce legislation to provide three weeks’ annual leave for its employees. Ever since the executive started to put pressure - some fair and some unfair - on the parliamentary representatives to have this legislation introduced, the Queensland Government has pursued a policy of dismissing its employees, alleging that it is so impoverished that it is unable to maintain these people in employment. This charge has been made by the Queensland Government notwithstanding the fact that it has more than £20,000,000 in reserve and trust accounts and almost £3,000,000 in its own unemployment insurance fund, which moneys are available for loan to any of the departments concerned, on an interest basis, if they desire to maintain these people in employment. However, if the men were continued in employment, naturally the Queensland Government would lose the argument that it has been advancing to the Queensland central executive to justify its refusal to introduce the legislation for three weeks’ annual leave.
The latest dismissals concern 452 employees of the Queensland Housing Commission. Some of them were engaged on day labour in the erection of houses under the terms of the workers dwellings scheme, which is financed from funds found by the State from its own resources and has absolutely no relation to the funds provided by the Commonwealth Government. Other finance came from the Commonwealth under the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
When publicity was given to the fact that 452 employees of the Housing Commission were to be dismissed because of shortage of funds, a deputation consisting of trade union leaders came into the federal members’ rooms in Queensland and interviewed Queensland Liberal party and Australian Country party members. At that interview, since no basis for understanding could be reached on the situation, it was suggested by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) that three representatives of the trade unions and three members of the Commonwealth Parliament should wait on the Queensland Minister for Housing to discuss this matter with him. The appointment was arranged for that afternoon and we waited on. the Minister. The Minister, Mr. Mccathie, informed the deputation that in February of each year the Queensland Housing Commission makes a review of its financial situation and that in the review this >ear it was found that the commission was in financial difficulties. He said that the matter was referred to the Queensland Cabinet, which decided that these men should be dismissed from employment, the work on the workers’ dwellings scheme should be suspended, and that work on housing commission projects should be reduced to a minimum.
I ask this House to observe that the decision of the Queensland Cabinet was not that an approach should be made to the Commonwealth Government to advance further funds to the Queensland Housing Commission; it was not that the Queensland Government would make its funds available to the Housing Commission; it was that these men should be dismissed. So the men were given dismissal notices and they were dismissed with the very minimum period of notice which could possibly be given to them. I think every honorable member will agree that this was unjust. If the men were going to be sacked, at least they could have been given reasonable notice that their time was due to expire. They should not have been given the minimum period of dismissal notice.
When our deputation interviewed the Minister and he made these points to us, we informed him that we considered that this was a situation entirely of the State’s own creation. We made that point as emphatically as we could, and the Minister did not deny that allegation. I repeat, the Minister did not deny that allegation. We then told the Minister that we considered the dismissal of these men at such short notice was quite unfair and the honorable member for Petrie asked him if he would delay the dismissals at least until the end of April to give us an opportunity to come to Canberra, interview the Commonwealth Ministers concerned, find out what the actual position was and ascertain whether any assistance could be given to maintain these men in employment. We agreed that if it was found that the Queensland Government was in dire straits finan cially, then although it was a situation of that Government’s own creation, we would do everything in our power to raise funds to keep these men in employment. The Minister agreed that he would reconsider the dismissals. He also gave us his word that after he had given this consideration he would advise us of his determination before advising the press.
Within 36 hours the Minister telephoned each of us to inform us that he had reached a decision and that the men were going to be sacked. The telephone calls came to us before 10 a.m. The men were going to be sacked whether we got the £278,000 that the Queensland Government wanted or not. That was the decision of the Queensland Cabinet and it was the decision of the Minister. Therefore there was nothing more that we could do to keep these men in employment. Within half an hour of that announcement by the Queensland Minister there was delivered to each of our offices a letter from Mr. Dawson, a well-known Communist, informing us of the Minister’s decision. It was a printed circular letter and in addition there was a pamphlet which had been prepared and printed. I suggest that it would have been impossible for this propaganda to have been completed within the short space of time between the Minister’s notification to us of his Government’s decision and the time of the delivery of the pamphlet. 1 will not suggest that Mr. Dawson was trucking with Mr. Gair,
– He was too busy trucking with Mr. Wight.
– He was more likely trucking with Mr. McCathie. But these men have been dismissed, and whether or not the Commonwealth Government had been able to find the money, the decision made by the Queensland Government was irrevocable. When Mr. McCathie told us that the men would be dismissed we asked why, and also whether, if we got the money would he sack these men. His reply was, “ Yes, they will be sacked because we cannot discriminate between the workers of the Housing Commission and the 500 workers of the Railways Department and the Forestry Department who were sacked last year. These men will not get any preferential treatment “.
This continual dismissal of employees by the Queensland Government is an organized stunt. It is one of the most treacherous political plots that has ever been engineered by that Government. The livelihood of these men and the welfare of their families are being prejudiced so that the Queensland Government may have an opportunity to beat the Queensland Central Executive of the Labour party in its internal fight. The whole thing should have been exposed long ago.
When we came to Canberra we were still desirous of trying to find a solution to this problem. We carried out a thorough invest iga lion of the financial resources of the Queensland Housing Commission and found that from the end of June, last year, until 15th March, this year, it had drawn from the moneys available to it in the Federal Treasury a sum of a little over £1,200,000. It had available, to carry it on for three months from 15th March, a sum of £1,175,000. I point out that for nine months the Queensland Government saw fit to draw only a little more than £1,200,000. At the end of that time, with £1,175,000 still in hand, unspent, it decided to dismiss these workers. I suggest that that is proof positive that the Queensland Government has engaged in a plot which should be exposed, lt is a plot to betray the people it represents. It claims to represent the workers but it is the workers who are paying the price for the internal war that is going on within the ranks of the Labour’ party. This fact should be made known to the people and the Queensland Government should be thrown out of office and replaced by a government that will show some consideration for the workers.
.- Last week, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) participated in the Address-in-Reply debate, and during the 25 minutes that he spoke, at no stage did he introduce one of the points that he has made to-night. I suggest to the House that the speech he has just delivered is simply an afterthought. If I may make such a suggestion, the honorable member for Lilley did not do too well when he dealt with this matter last week. It appears that he is eager to take his medicine and his punishment because he has now come back for more. I shall not go into figures except to quote the statistics that were given by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The honorable member for Lilley has said to-night that the Queensland Government had over £1,100,000 in “kitty” for housing. The Minister said that the amount was £500,000.
– He did not say that.
– He said that it was half a million pounds and it has never been denied that that sum was there. It has been stated and re-stated by the Queensland Minister for Housing, Mr. McCathie, that that amount had been budgeted for at the beginning of the financial year, when the whole of the year’s works programme was drawn up. The Queensland Government draws from the Commonwealth Treasury its allocation each month. The Queensland Minister for Housing stated that the £500,000, allocated to the Queensland Housing Commission, was absorbed or was about to be absorbed, in financing contracts for houses either already commenced or about to be commenced.
The honorable member for Lilley referred to Mr. Dawson, a great Communist, and suggested that Mr. McCathie or the Queensland Labour members were having some truck with him in this matter. Mr. Dawson is the secretary of the building trades group of the Building Workers Industrial Union in Queensland. The honorable member for Lilley referred to the fact that Liberal members of a deputation met the Minister, Mr. McCathie, in the presence of Mr. Dawson, the Communist, who was also a member of the deputation. I am not complaining about that. But I think it does not do the honorable member for Lilley very much justice to stand in his place this evening and bring forward this story that has been worked out in his imagination since he spoke last week. He has obviously attempted to cast a slur on Queensland members on this side of the House by concocting a suggestion that we were having some truck with Mr. Dawson.
Another thing which the honorable member for Lilley has just stated, but which he conveniently forgot to mention last week, is that the Queensland Minister for Housing said that, even if his Government received £278,000 from the Commonwealth Government the employees would still have to be dismissed. Further, the Queensland Government could not see its way clear to discriminate between the employees of the Queensland Housing Commission and the 1,600 employees who had been dismissed from other public works projects. The honorable member, in common with his colleagues on the other side of the House, is trying to get away from the fact that this sort of situation is not peculiar to Queensland. What is happening in that State is occurring all over Australia, with the possible exception of one State. Attacks on the Queensland Government by honorable members on the Government side and the slurs which they have cast on the activities of the Queensland central executive of the Australian Labour party will not lessen the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to the people of Australia in regard to housing.
The honorable member said that even if Queensland had obtained money from the Commonwealth it would have still dismissed these employees. On the night that the Address-in-Reply debate began, there were in Canberra several union officials representing the building trades group of the Queensland union. They each had received a telegram informing them that if the money were made available within the financial year, these men would not be dismissed. That is a fact that the honorable member for Lilley is trying to get around. He, and his colleagues, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and Senator Kendall were members of the deputation who gave to officials of the building trade groups of the union a solemn promise that if this money was found to be necessary for housing they would make strong representations to the Commonwealth Government on their behalf. They did not do so. They failed to fulfil that promise which they made 10 these union officials in Queensland.
To return to where the honorable member for Lilley started, any one would know that the story he has told to-night has been concocted out of his imagination. The Queensland central executive, he says, is demanding that the State Government provide three weeks’ annual leave. He also talks about long-service leave and then comes to the conclusion - the idea exists only in his mind - that that is the reason for the dismissal of these men. Yet, the Queensland Minister himself, at the eleventh hour said, “ If we can get the £278,000, not to-day or to-morrow but during this financial year, these men will be kept in employment “. That assurance from the Minister destroys the argument that the honorable member has introduced here to-night.
But the honorable member will continue with this imaginary argument about something that is taking place in the minds of members of the Queensland Cabinet. Added to that, of course, is his insistent, bitter hatred of the State from which he comes. There is not one speech made by the honorable member for Lilley in this House that does not contain an attack on Queensland. He never fails to do so. That is not only my knowledge, but the knowledge of every one who knows the honorable member.
The fact is that 452 men were dismissed from employment in the building trades in Queensland. As I said recently, my information is that 300 of those men were married and that 900 children were involved. That means that 1 ,600 people were concerned in this matter. The men would not have been dismissed if this Government had been prepared to accept its responsibility. Those men would never have been dismissed if the Government had paid £278,000 to the Queensland Housing Commission. All the slurs, sneers and insinuations about the Labour party and the Queensland central executive will not alter that fact. If the honorable member for Lilley and any of his colleagues want to persist with this diatribe about the Queensland central executive’s instruction to the Queensland Government having the effect of putting the men out of employment, they are entitled to do so; but every one is quite well aware of the actual position.
I repeat that the honorable member’s concentration of attention on Queensland will not remove the responsibility from this Government. This Government has failed dismally, and looks as if it will continue to fail in respect of housing. All the attacks by the honorable member or by any one who wishes to follow his lead will not detract one iota from the responsibility of this Government. I put it to the honorable member that, as the statements he made on the last occasion have been proved incorrect, and as he has introduced a fresh argument to-night out of his imagination, he should give up the game and admit defeat.
Several members rising in their places,
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.39 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
k asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Does the amount of £2,580,000 in annual repayment of the 54,000,000 dollars loan from the International Bank include exchange?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
As from 15th March, 1958, until 15th March, 1970, the annual total of the half-yearly interest and principal payments to the International Bank in respect of the 54,000,000 dollars loan will amount to 5,790,000 dollars or £A.2,585,000 at the par rate of exchange.
b asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
b asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: -
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has two divisions concerned with the building industry. The first is the Division of Building Research, while the second is the Division of Forest Products, which deals exclusively with timber. The Australian Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers have entered into an arrangement with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to contribute £2,500 per annum towards the cost of investigations of the problems of plaster manufacture and use. The honorable member may be aware that fibrous plaster as a building material is, with the exception of New Zealand, not used in any other country of the world but Australia. This industry grew up in Australia and is a very successful one. The Australian paint industry also now has an arrangement with the Division of Building Research to subscribe a similar sum for the investigation of the problems of painting fibrous plaster. In both these cases there has been some delay in expending the money thus made available because of the extreme difficulty of obtaining the necessary staff to undertake these investigations. However the research staff has now been obtained and it is anticipated that the work will be commenced in the current year. The Division of Forest Products also receives a donation of £8,000 per annum in support of the work being done on the construction and properties of plywood. This grant is being made by the Plywood Board and commenced this current year 1956-57. This division also receives many general donations from the timber industry to support the very wide range of work that it is doing on the preparation and preservation of timber, much of which is used by the building industry. These donations amounted in 1955-56 to £3,400 and it is estimated that the sum involved in 1956-57 will be £2,500. I have on previous occasions remarked on the responsibility of indus try to contribute to research investigations by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, particularly where these have a very direct bearing on the prosperity and future development of industry itself. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is, for example, carrying out researches which are of very direct interest to the heavy clay industries in this country and this is one instance where I would like to see the industry concerned making some contribution.
d asked the Minister for Immi gration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
If at any time after your arrival in Australia you desire to obtain particulars relating to your employment you should take the matter up with the office of the Department of Immigration in the capital city of the State in which you are residing which will give you any help within its power. In the event of your employer failing to honour the conditions which he has undertaken to observe in respect of your employment you should immediately bring the matter to the notice of the Department of Immigration.
Formerly, the test of eligibility to introduce an Asian assistant was the volume of turnover or overseas trade. Following review of the rules by the Immigration Advisory Council, the Government last year adopted a series of recommendations by the council designed to bring greater reality to the previous rules. The test now is not merely the extent of turnover or trade, but whether an imported Asian assistant is vital to the business. However, businesses which had gained the admission of assistants, before the changes I have just mentioned were made, are being allowed to retain their services on the basis of the rules applying at the lime of their admission. It is considered that it would be unduly harsh, both to the employer and the employee, to insist upon the departure of the employee from Australia solely because the business would not be eligible under later rules.
k asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers: -
Pollution of the Sea.
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following replies: -
d asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Will he provide the latest information as to the projected date of inundation of the township of Jindabyne?
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following reply: -
It is probable that the lower parts of Jindabyne will be flooded about 1963. A number of factors could affect the date, including the wetness of the period during which inundation takes place and the availability of funds.
e asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Development Trust Account. Careful consideration has had to be given to the type of project on which the limited funds available will be expended in order to ensure that the maximum benefit is obtained from their use for ihe development of fisheries in Australian waters.
t asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
What steps has his department taken to administer medical services to aborigines on the same scale as to other Australians?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
In the Northern Territory the Commonwealth Health Department provides all the necessary care for aborigines in Darwin, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Katherine, where hospitals are situated. Regular visits of inspection are made by doctors, dentists and nursing sisters to all the isolated areas such as cattle stations and mission stations at regular intervals. By the use of radio regular medical services are available to all in the outback and the aerial medical service is used to bring sick aborigines to hospitals under the same conditions as other Australians. In the States the care of the aborigines is the responsibility of the State governments.
r asked the Minister for Health, upon notice: -
In reviewing the Commonwealth-States Hospitals Agreement shortly tn be renewed, will he provide for payment of Commonwealth benefit in cases treated by district nurses, particularly where these nurses operate directly under the control of a hospital?
– The answer to the honorable members question is as follows: - lt is not proposed to provide for payment of hospital benefit for persons treated by district nurses in their own homes. Special provision has been made by which the Commonwealth provides a subsidy for home nursing services- under the Home Nursing Subsidy Act 1956.
b asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
r asked the Minister for Works, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. The specification has not been changed fundamentally but has been slightly modified to suit the various soil types encountered during construction. This slight modification would not materially affect progress. The contractor is a little behind schedule so that now half the runway will be planted in April and the remainder towards the end of May. Grasses will be varied to suit the later planting. There will be no appreciable delay in the development of a suitable grass cover.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 March 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570328_reps_22_hor14/>.